This may be the most popular subject of Thursidae.

The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is an extremely distinctive bear that is native to southern China. It is currently considered to be a conservation-dependent endangered species by the IUCN, because deforestation and a slow recovery from heavy poaching has left the overall population in a precarious position. The Pinyin translation of the bear’s Chinese name (大熊猫) is dà xióng māo, which means “big bear cat.” Its scientific name, Ailuropoda melanoleuca also references a feline associate, translating to “black and white cat-foot.” Though it is often perceived to be a docile and non-threatening animal, there have been documented attacks on humans (usually provoked).

Giant Pandas have unique black and white coloring and large, muscular jaws. They have a significant bite force quotient, which is a ratio of the quotient of an animal’s bite force divided by its mass. The Giant Panda has a bite force quotient of 292, while the Asiatic Black Bear, American Black Bear, and Brown Bears all have bite force quotients a quarter or less of that score! They also have paws with five “fingers” and an opposable “thumb,” which helps them grip their food, like bamboo shoots, in order to eat it more efficiently. Adult Giant Pandas can grow up to 6 feet (1.9 meters) in body length, stand 3 feet (90 cm) at the shoulder, and weigh up to 350 pounds (160 kg). Adult females are approximately 10% smaller than males.

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While it’s true that Giant Pandas subsist mostly on bamboo (which comprises 99% of their diet), it’s still a carnivoran and is able to digest foods like carrion, small animals, eggs, honey, fish, and other types of vegetation like tubers and grasses. Because the Giant Panda has this kind of digestive system, however, it means that it is extremely inefficient at digesting the bamboo that they eat. This means that they eat a lot of it, about 30 pounds (14 kg) per day. And because it basically goes right through them, it means that they defecate up to 40 times each day. Giant Pandas travel and forage different kinds of bamboo from different areas in order to balance their diets and gain all of the necessary nutrients.

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Giant Pandas are territorial, and will avoid each other at all times of the year outside mating season, which takes place from March to May. During the mating season, they will leave “notes” for each other by clawing trees and taking dust baths, which help to spread their scent around. They will also call to each other. Pregnant females can give birth anywhere between July and September, and the gestation period varies based on how long the female delays the implantation of the fertilized egg. Giant Panda cubs are completely helpless for the first four weeks or so of its life, and the mother usually ends up raising one cub at a time, even if she gives birth to twins. Because cubs stay with their mothers until they are about 18 months old, Giant Pandas give birth once every two years. As many readers are probably aware, it’s extremely difficult to entice Giant Pandas to mate in captivity.

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Strangely enough, the Giant Panda has played a role in international relations, to the point where this specific kind of diplomacy is known as “panda diplomacy.” It was involved in some important cultural exchanges between the People’s Republic of China and the West, but now the PRC offers Giant Pandas to foreign zoos and conservation efforts on 10-year loans. The terms of these loans can include the payment of US $1,000,000 each year, making the Giant Panda the most expensive animal to keep in a zoo - even more expensive than elephants. The United States only allows zoos to import Giant Pandas if the PRC agrees to spend at least half of the fees on conservation efforts. While Giant Pandas are still considered to be endangered, the population seems to be recovering. This won’t mean much in the long run, however, if the loss of their habitat continues.

Source for all images used in this post.