Class – Mammals.
Squad – Predatory.
Family – Bearish.
Conservation status – vulnerable species.
Weight up to 160 kg., Length – 1.2-1.6 m.
Life expectancy in the wild is 10-15 years, in captivity – up to 35 years.
Food – all types of bamboo, fish, poultry, eggs, mushrooms, etc.
Enemies are now absent in their habitats. Formerly leopards and wolves.
Panda: general characteristics
Pandas have large size, massive body and thick strong limbs. The growth of adults varies from 1.2 to 1.6 m., and the weight can reach 160 kg. In general, pandas resemble ordinary bears in their appearance with one small difference: these creatures have a tail, 10-15 cm long.
The hind legs of pandas are equipped with sharp claws, and there are flexible pads on the soles and near the toes of each paw, thanks to which the animals keep slippery bamboo shoots. In addition, bears have a bony process in the form of a deformed toe on their forepaws, which helps them break rough bamboo stems.
The fur of pandas is thick and dense, and serves them as excellent protection from the winter cold. But the main feature of these creatures is their unique color. The black and white coloring of bamboo bears makes them very attractive and gives the impression of being dressed in a fancy dress. And the black spots around the eyes give the pandas a touching and slightly sad expression.
Basically, these animals move on all four limbs, but they can also assume an upright position, reaching the upper leaves and stems. The gait of pandas is slow and clumsy, they are not able to move quickly, since they do not have strength and endurance. Bears have good eyesight, but they are more guided by their hearing and superbly developed scent. They are great at climbing trees and know how to swim, although they are not very fond of water.
The life span of pandas in the wild is 12-15 years. In captivity, this figure rises to 25-35 years.
Is it true that in China, the death penalty is threatened for killing a panda? Until 1997, the PRC really had a law according to which the person who killed the panda was sentenced to death. But now killing a bamboo bear is punishable by 10 years in prison. And in the presence of aggravating circumstances, the offender faces life imprisonment.
Where do pandas live
The homeland and original habitat of all pandas is China. These animals are found exclusively in the PRC, and even then in certain regions. Giant pandas are found in the central Chinese province of Sichuan, a small population has survived in the highlands of Tibet.
There are no more than 2 thousand bamboo bears around the world, and more than half of them are kept in parks and national reserves. The few individuals left in the wild live where bamboo grows, they inhabit mixed, deciduous and coniferous forests, and prefer to hide from human eyes in the mountain hills.
Until the middle of the 20th century, the Chinese giant panda was considered the only representative of its kind. But in 1960, scientists discovered a population of bears, which, after a long study, were attributed to the panda family. And at the moment, two subspecies are distinguished in the classification of these animals:
- Ailuropoda melanoleuca (giant panda). These are typical pandas with black and white fur, and the whole world knows them as bamboo bears.
- Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis (large brown or brown panda). And these are their closest relatives, who received the status of a separate species in 2005.
- In the Himalayan mountains, some Chinese provinces, Nepal and Bhutan, an animal lives, which is called a small fire panda. These unique creatures are small in size, weighing only 3 to 6 kg, have a bright red or brown color, and look like raccoons.
But, despite the name, these fluffy babies have nothing in common with big pandas, except that they are united by an addiction to eating bamboo. Although zoologists determined that both species of animals had a common ancestor, their further evolution followed different paths, so that the giant panda and the small fire panda belong to separate genera.
Big brown panda
The natural habitat of these bears is limited to the Qinling mountain range, located in the southwestern Chinese provinces of Henan and Shaanxi. The brown panda is also called Qinling, in honor of the mountains, which have been their safe haven for many centuries. For their place of residence, these creatures have chosen the inaccessible mountains, located at an altitude of 1300 to 3000 km. above sea level, and lead such a hidden lifestyle that scientists did not even believe in their existence at first.
Brown pandas are still practically not studied, zoologists know little about their reproduction and habits. Indeed, over the past three decades, scientists were lucky enough to see them in the wild no more than five times.
In 1989, with the help of local residents, a young female brown panda was caught, who was named Den Deng, and settled in a Chinese zoo. When she reached puberty, she was bred with a regular black and white male. Den-Deng became pregnant and gave birth to three unviable cubs, after which all attempts at further breeding in captivity proved to be a failure. Den-Deng herself lived a long life, at the time of her death she was 29 years old. Through the study and observation of this truly priceless specimen, zoologists have compiled an approximate description of the brown panda species.
These animals differ from their black and white relatives in their smaller size and color. The brown panda has a light brown or beige background, and this is another mystery that scientists have yet to solve. After all, they never managed to determine what was the reason for such an unusual shade for pandas. So far, the main version is that the color of their fur is the result of a genetic mutation, which sounds quite plausible, because the staff of the reserves recorded cases when black pandas were born with brown babies.
DNA experts have concluded that brown and black-and-white pandas are not closely related genetically, so crossbreeding between the two is unlikely to be possible.
But otherwise, these creatures can be called typical pandas. They are just as slow and lazy, spend most of their time eating bamboo, and have little interest in the opposite sex and mating games. And it is the last two points that cause the greatest concern among scientists. Indeed, according to rough estimates, there are no more than 300 representatives of brown pandas in the Qinling Mountains, so their population is even smaller than their black and white compatriots.
Zoologists do not even risk approaching animals, so as not to disturb fearful bears, and they conduct covert surveillance behind them. But, since there are no predators in the habitats of brown pandas, and people do not hunt them, there is always hope for the revival of these unique creatures.
What pandas eat
Pandas are not called bamboo bears for nothing, because their main diet consists of this tropical evergreen. In the natural habitat of black and white creatures, there are about 25 varieties of bamboo, each of which is eagerly eaten by pandas. Animals consume all parts of the plant: stems, leaves and even roots. And since bamboo can hardly be called high-calorie and nutritious, pandas have to spend 10-12 hours a day at a meal, methodically chewing juicy bamboo shoots.
To saturate an adult bear every day, at least 25-30 kg of green food is required.
The stomach and walls of the pandas esophagus are covered with a thick layer of mucus inside, which helps to etch the tough bamboo, and protects the digestive system from sharp splinters and debris.
But pandas aren’t limited to the bamboo diet alone. Yes, these plants are their main food, and also serve as a source of water, because animals get the necessary liquid from juicy stems and leaves. And yet, bears supplement their menu with other ingredients, including those of animal origin.
The diet of pandas includes:
- Leaves of bushes of rhododendron, linden, ash, Iris and saffron bulbs
- Woody mushrooms
- Worms, insects and their larvae
- Bird eggs
- Small rodents
In very rare cases, pandas can eat carrion, but this happens if their natural reserves of bamboo have decreased, as a result of which they have to starve. And in zoos and reserves, these bears are fed with sweet fruits, fresh vegetables, cookies and special mixtures.
Lifestyle and behavior
These creatures prefer to lead a secretive, secluded lifestyle. The activity of pandas does not depend on the time of day; they go in search of food when they get hungry. But, since pandas nominally belong to the class of predators, in most cases they go out to feed at dusk, and during the day they rest in bamboo thickets, or on a wide tree trunk.
By the way, the very word “activity”is unlikely to be appropriate in the case of bamboo bears. After all, these animals are so lazy and slow that they can even fall asleep during a meal. True, their pathological laziness is a reasonable excuse: bamboo stalks contain few nutrients, and the body of pandas has thus adapted to use energy sparingly and not waste precious calories on unnecessary movements.
The way of life of pandas
Bamboo bears are not at all conflicting animals, they do not show aggression and anger towards each other. And at the same time, pandas do not strive for friendly relations and joint pastime with their relatives. True, in zoos and reserves, a group of pandas peacefully coexist in spacious enclosures, they eat and play together.
But in the wild, each bear has its own plot of land with bamboo plantations and shelters in the form of natural caves or rocky depressions. Interestingly, the pandas do not mark the boundaries of their own possessions with urine and feces, but simply leave deep scratches on the trees. Strangers are not welcomed on their territory, but they will not start a fight with an intruder either.
Although females are more aggressive than males, and violently drive away black and white neighbors who have wandered into their areas, it is likely that their behavior is due to fierce competition for food for themselves and their young.
Pandas do not have the habit of building shelters for themselves, they settle down to rest among dense vegetation, on the trunk of the first tree they come across, or even just on the ground. But when it rains, bears take refuge in cave grottoes and in crevices of rocks, as they really do not like dampness and wet weather.
Pandas do not go into hibernation, but with the onset of cold weather they become more passive than usual, and spend more time sleeping than in the warm season. And in winter, animals have to migrate to regions where the weather conditions are not so severe. In December, they leave the snow-covered hills, and move to winter in forests and plains, where the air temperature is a couple of degrees higher.
Character and habits
Calm, friendly and peaceful, this is how you can characterize these large and very charming bears. And yet, despite their caution, pandas are very simple-minded and naive, and it is these qualities that put them on the brink of extinction. After all, the black-and-white creatures were trusting of people, letting them come to a close distance, and showing them not fear, but curiosity. Therefore, ruthless hunters easily and simply got such prey as the skin of a bamboo bear.
Pandas also have such traits as self-esteem and slight arrogance. If other bears frighten with their strength and power, then pandas behave mannered and noble, like real oriental sages. It is especially interesting to observe what postures these animals take during rest. Pandas like to sit with their backs resting on a tree trunk, reminiscent of a tired wanderer who decided to rest after a long journey.
At the same time, bamboo bears can still cross their lower legs, directing their gaze into the distance, and indulging in philosophical reflections on the transience of time. Or maybe no sublime thoughts arise in the head of the pandas, they just enjoy the silence, peace and the soothing sounds of their native forest.
Pandas living in zoos and reserves are more active than their fellow tribesmen living in their natural environment. In captivity, these creatures often play, splash in the pool, and arrange playful brawls among themselves with somersaults and rolling on the ground. Perhaps their behavior is due to the fact that bears do not have to save energy in search of food, and they can afford funny entertainment.
Pandas are quite quiet and silent animals, they do not know how to roar, grumble and groan like ordinary bears. Cubs make sounds that vaguely resemble the crying and whimpering of a small child. Adult pandas greet each other with strange sounds, similar to the bleating of a kid. Bamboo bears show fright and irritation with a “hum”, and a wounded or sick panda screams shrilly.
Reproduction and rearing of offspring
Pandas reach sexual maturity late, they are ready to reproduce only at 5-7 years of age. The breeding season for bamboo bears begins in early spring and lasts until early June. Heat in females lasts only 3-5 days, and if mating does not take place at this moment, the bear will be able to repeat her attempt to become a mother only next year.
With the onset of the mating season, all animals begin to actively search for a partner, but not a panda. Unlike other representatives of the animal kingdom, these creatures are not distinguished by high sex drive. Although the hormones in males have changed since January, and testosterone is produced in their bodies, some of them do not even leave their personal territory, and spend the mating season for their usual occupation – sleeping and eating bamboo.
Despite the fact that males are not too inclined to lively mating games, they have to compete for the lady of the heart, because there are 3-4 males for 1 female. Of course, there are no fierce battles between pandas. Males challenge their right to the bear by opening their mouths wide, demonstrating the strength of their teeth to the rival, and at the same time making chomping sounds.
With the onset of the mating season, females become good-natured and calm, and call for black and white gentlemen, leaving a trail of odorous secretions produced by a special gland. Immediately before mating, the behavior of the bears changes, their appetite decreases, they behave nervously and irritably. After a short act of love, the animals immediately lose interest in each other, and disperse to their areas.
Pregnancy and childbirth
From the moment of conception, the development of the embryo does not occur immediately, sometimes this process is delayed for a couple of months. Probably, nature in this way provides protection for future baby pandas, allowing them to be born in the most favorable and warmest periods.
In total, the duration of gestation in female bamboo bears lasts from 3.5 to 5 months. Before giving birth, the female searches for a hidden den in a cave, the bottom of which is lined with leaves and branches. One litter contains 1, less often 2 cubs.
Newborn pandas are born very small and completely helpless. They are blind, covered with light white fluff and weigh only 100-130 g. If a bear gives birth to twins, the female feeds only one, stronger and more viable baby. Another cub abandoned by its mother is not destined to survive.
Caring for offspring
Although pandas act cruelly towards their second baby, sentencing him to death by starvation, they have an extremely strong motherhood instinct. The bear immediately presses the newborn to her, warming him with her body, and putting it to the nipple. The baby is fed every 2 hours, and he is always in the caring embrace of the mother.
The female does not let the baby get off her hands even during the meal and sleep.
Young pandas are developing at a rather slow pace. By the first month of life, they are overgrown with fluffy black and white wool, the eyes open when they reach 1.5 months of age, and babies take their first steps only after 3 months after birth. Before that, the female carries the cub on herself all the time, and he begins to walk under her vigilant control.
Young pandas are very playful and curious, and as soon as they learn to move independently, they spend their free time exploring the world around them. Yes, and black and white mothers are not averse to playing with their baby, and can even wake up a sleeping offspring to frolic together.
Pandas begin to join the bamboo diet at 5 months, but even before 6-7 months of age they feed on breast milk. They stay with their mother until they are 1.5 years old, after which they will have an independent life.
Do pandas breed in captivity? Yes, but this process is even slower than in the wild. The thing is that pandas are kept in neighboring enclosures, they often see each other, and do not understand that the mating season has come. Usually, males do not even show interest in females during estrus. The first offspring from pandas in captivity could be obtained only in 2000. Now zoologists and experts from all over the world are intensively developing ways to stimulate these animals to reproduce, and have already achieved their first successes.
Enemies in the wild
In their natural habitat, pandas can feel completely safe. There are no large predators in the neighborhood, so black and white bears can safely eat their favorite bamboo without fear of attacks from four-legged hunters.
And yet, scientists believe that in the old days, pandas had to fend off predatory animals. For example, they could have fallen prey to such a representative of the feline family as the clouded leopard, which is found in the subtropical forests of Sichuan. True, given the fact that the weight of leopards is no more than 20 kg, they could hardly hunt adult pandas, and their prey, most likely, were not yet matured cubs.
In the mountainous areas of western China and Tibet, there is another large predator – the red (also known as the mountain or Himalayan) wolf. These animals lead a gregarious lifestyle, and could well attack pandas, who did not even have a chance to defend themselves from a hungry pack. But now both the clouded leopard and the red wolf, along with the panda, are listed in the International Red Book as very rare, endangered animals.
And since the pandas are constantly monitored by the employees of the protected areas, these predators do not risk approaching bears, preferring to stay away from human eyes.
Why do all pandas belong to China
Since pandas live exclusively on the territory of China, and are considered a national treasure of the country, the PRC undividedly owns all the rights to these animals. By the way, the panda is not only alive, but also a very profitable symbol of the Celestial Empire.
The fact is that China leases black and white bears to world zoos. And not every zoo can afford such an exotic pet. To rent a panda for a year, you need to pay $ 1 million to the state treasury of the PRC, and the agreement stipulates that the animal must be returned to the Chinese at their first request. And an equally interesting fact: if a rented panda has cubs, they automatically become four-legged “citizens”of China. And in the event of the death of a bear, the zoo undertakes to deliver its body to its original homeland, taking upon itself all the accompanying financial costs.
In China, pandas are considered a living symbol and a national treasure, they are treated as priceless treasures. Apparently, the Chinese realized the damage they caused to the population of bamboo bears, destroying them for many centuries, and are now trying to make amends by creating truly royal conditions for the life of the pandas. But only time will tell if not too late people decided to revive these unique creatures, and whether the next generations will be able to admire a living panda at least in the zoo.