Giant Panda IUCN Status Category: Endangered
Ailuropoda melanoleuca (David, 1869) CITES Appendix: I
Giant pandas are robust members of the bear family with a distinctive black and white coat. Their head and body length is 120 to 190 cm, and adults weigh 85 to 125 kg. Specialized features include broad, flat molars modified for crushing, and an enlarged wristbone functioning as an opposable thumb — both adaptations for eating bamboo. The giant panda’s diet consists almost entirely of the leaves, stems and shoots of various bamboo species; although they occasionally eat meat. A giant panda may consume 12 to 18 kg of bamboo a day to meet its energy requirements.
Giant pandas inhabit the bamboo forest zone between 1,200 m and 3,400 m. Formerly they were found in riverine valleys at lower elevations, but these areas are now settled by humans. Giant pandas are generally solitary, each adult having a well-defined home range. A male’s home range overlaps with those of several females. Although encounters are rare outside the brief mating season, pandas communicate fairly often mostly through vocalization and scent marking.
Giant pandas reach sexual maturity between 4.5 and 7.5 years. After a gestation period of about five months, females give birth to a single young or sometimes twins. Wild giant pandas bear a cub every two years or more. Newborns are tiny, weighing only 100 to 160 grams. Cubs start eating bamboo at about one year of age, but remain with their mother until she conceives again, usually when the cub is about 18 months old. Infant mortality in the wild is lower than in captivity, and is estimated at around 40%.
Fossil evidence suggests that in the early Pleistocene, some 2-3 million years ago, ancestors of the giant panda were widely distributed over much of eastern and southern China as far north as Beijing. Panda fossils have also been found in northern Myanmar (Burma) and northern Vietnam. The...