Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Giant Panda Bear

The Giant Panda Bear

Giant Panda Bear
The giant panda bear (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is an endangered species of bear found natively in central-western and south-western China. Currently, it is thought that approximately 75% of giant panda bears reside in the Sichuan province, with the remainder being spread between the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. The area inhabited by the giant panda bear today is but a remnant of its once extensive territory, however. It is thought that many thousands of years ago, the species ranged over much of southern and eastern China - fossil evidence even places the panda as far south as northern Myanmar - but due to climate change and the expanding human population, this has shrunk dramatically. The black and white markings of the giant panda are a familiar sight to many people around the world. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has used the image of a giant panda as its logo since the organization's founding in 1961 and the species can be frequently found in nature documentaries, children's programmes and even Hollywood films. DreamWorks Animation's 2008 film "Kung Fu Panda" is a particularly recent example.

Approximately 75% of giant panda bears reside in the Sichuan province
 
Giant Panda Bear

Giant Panda Bear Facts

The giant panda bear has a very distinctive and instantly recognizable coat. Black fur covers the front
and back legs, shoulders, ears and an area around each eye. The rest of the animal is white. It's not clear why the giant panda is marked this way. One theory suggests it is to aid camouflage in the shady environment in which it lives, whereas another proposes it is to help the panda stand out in its habitat in order to find mates. It has a similar body shape to that of other bear species but possesses an elongated radial sesamoid bone (a "thumb") that greatly aids its ability to pick up and eat bamboo. This is unique within the Ursidae (bear) family. Adults can weigh between 100 and 150kg with males typically around 10% larger and 20% heavier than females. They measure roughly 1.5 meters long (nose to rump) and have a 10-15cm tail, the second longest tail of any bear.

The giant panda bear's diet is primarily the stems, leaves and shoots of a variety of bamboo species. They don't have any particular preference and indeed may not have much choice; due to the altitude at which the giant panda is now forced to live, the number of bamboo species available to it are somewhat limited. Because bamboo has little nutritional value, pandas need to spend a significant amount of time eating - usually at least 12 hours a day. In this time they can consume as much as 38 kilograms. Interestingly, the giant panda bear's digestive system is similar to that of other carnivores, yet it lives quite happily on a primarily herbivorous diet. On rare occasions meat and fish may be consumed if available, though bamboo remains the preferred choice.

Panda Bear
Giant panda bears are known for being solitary and peaceful animals, though they will show aggression if threatened. Luckily, they have very few natural enemies. Jackals and leopards have been known to prey on pandas, although not commonly, and the yellow-throated martin will also sometimes eat giant panda cubs. However, the main threats to the giant panda are the destruction of its habitat and illegal hunting by poachers. China's expanding economy has had a catastrophic effect on the panda's habitat in recent decades, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the population of these gentle creatures. Coupled with the naturally low birth rate of pandas - both in the wild and captivity - the situation appears particularly dire. Despite these odds, recent surveys have indicated that giant panda numbers might actually be on the increase. Scientists believe that the wild population may now number between 2500 and 3000, a significant increase from the 1980s when only about 1000 were thought to exist in the wild. This boost in population is helped by the growing awareness of the giant pandas situation and also the increase in panda sanctuaries and conservation efforts in China and around the world. The authorities for the Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces continue to work towards the conservation of giant pandas and are aided by organizations like the WWF. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization dedicated to natural resource conservation still classifies the giant panda as being endangered, however, as the population still remains relatively lowand threats to its survival still remain.

It is hoped that in the years to come, giant panda numbers will continue to increase both in the wild and captivity. Organizations like the WWF continually work to increase the panda population, protect as much of their natural habitat as possible and raise global awareness of the situation. Anybody wishing to contribute towards this effort or help in other ways should visit the WWF's website for details.

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