Animal Info - Giant Panda

(Other Names: Bai Xiong, Bamboo Bear, Da Xiong Mao, Hua Xiong, Mo, Pi xiu, Panda, Panda Bear, Panda Géant, Panda Gigante)

Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Status: Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline, Conservation)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Mortality and Survival, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Giant Panda #1 (14 Kb JPEG) (Doan 2000); Giant Panda #2 (72 Kb GIF); Giant Panda #3 (35 Kb JPEG) (Giant-Panda.com)

The giant panda weighs 70 - 125 kg (154 - 275 lb). It occupies montane forests with dense stands of bamboo at altitudes of 2700 - 3900 m (8850 - 12,800'). The panda does not hibernate but descends to lower elevations in the winter (usually not lower than 800 m (2600')) to reach warmer temperatures. It does not make a permanent den but takes shelter in hollow trees, rock crevices and caves. Although it is predominantly terrestrial. the giant panda can climb trees well. Activity patterns are largely crepuscular and nocturnal. Ten to twelve hours a day are spent feeding, mainly on bamboo (which comprises 99 % of its diet).  Giant pandas are usually solitary, except during the mating season.

The giant panda has been declining for thousands of years due to hunting by humans and climatic changes. Its populations originally extended throughout most of southern and eastern China, northern Myanmar, and northern Vietnam.  By 1900, it occurred only in the Qinling Mountains and along the edge of the Tibetan plateau.  Soon after 1900, the expansion of agriculture upstream along principal river valleys separated this distribution into separate regions in six mountain ranges.  Currently, the giant panda occurs in portions of these six mountain ranges in China's Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces. 

The greatest threat to panda survival is the loss and degradation of its habitat. The giant panda's range is steadily shrinking as logging operations - many of them illegal - fell trees, and peasants clear land for farming or harvest vegetation for fuel.  Already panda populations are small and isolated, confined to high ridges and hemmed in by cultivation. Poaching was a serious problem in the past, but it has dropped off, and it is no longer considered a major problem in substantial portions of the range. Furthermore, pandas' body parts have not been sought for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Giant pandas are killed, however, as victims of poachers' snares set for musk deer. An indirect threat from habitat fragmentation relates to the panda's reliance on bamboo for food. This threat arises because bamboo stands are subject to periodic large-scale die-offs. In the past, when bamboo died off, pandas could migrate to areas with healthy bamboo. But with fragmented habitat, this may not be possible.


Tidbits

*** The giant panda’s diet specialization is very unusual in mammals. Only a handful of animals are predominantly dependent on bamboo, including the red panda, bamboo lemurs (golden bamboo lemur, greater bamboo lemur and bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus)) found in Madagascar, and bamboo rats (including Rhizomys sinensis, R. pruinosus, and R. sumatrensis) found in China and Southeast Asia. (Roberts 1992)

*** Bamboo species usually reproduce by sending out shoots under the surface. Periodically, bamboo reproduces in a different way - by flowering, often over a wide area; producing seeds; and then dying. 2 - 3 years are generally required before new shoots appear from the seeds.  Between 1974 and 1976, the umbrella bamboo (Fargesia), and other bamboo species that pandas depend on, flowered and died over large areas of the Min Mountains of northern Sichuan, China.  As a result, at least 138 pandas died. (Schaller et al. 1985)

*** Although by the late 1980's a poacher could potentially receive the death penalty for killing a giant panda, the financial reward for selling a giant panda pelt was so high (more than an average peasant's lifetime earnings) that not even the death penalty was a deterrent: "Even though I risked my life, it was worth it," a poacher was quoted as saying to police. "If you hadn't caught me, I would have been rich." (Schaller 1993)

*** In 1995, a Chinese farmer who shot and killed a giant panda and tried to sell its skin was sentenced to life imprisonment (Oryx 1995q).

*** "Pandas were much hunted by local people before 1949...  In recent years, however, most people have been educated regarding the rarity and value of the panda; realizing now that it represents a national treasure, they help rather than kill it.   When, for example, a sick adult panda went into a commune in October 1978, a family fed it on sugar cane and rice porridge until it left three days later." (Schaller et al. 1985)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Giant Panda Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in China (Gansu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan Provinces) (IUCN 2004).

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The giant panda has been declining for thousands of years due to hunting by humans and climatic changes. Its populations originally extended throughout most of southern and eastern China, northern Myanmar, and northern Vietnam.  In ancient China it was already considered rare. By 1900, it occurred only in one region: the Qinling Mountains and along the edge of the Tibetan plateau.  Soon after 1900, the expansion of agriculture upstream along principal river valleys had separated this distribution into six separate regions, almost completely isolated from one another, in six mountain ranges: the Qinling, Min, Qionglai, Daxiangling, Xiaoxiangling, and Liang Mountains. Currently, the giant panda occurs in portions of these six mountain ranges in China's Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan (Kansu, Shensi and Szechwan) Provinces. The panda's total range encompasses about 29,500 sq km (11,400 sq mi), but probably less than 20%, or 5900 sq km (2300 sq mi), represents panda habitat. Chinese research on the panda has revealed that reproduction in the wild is adequate and that the giant panda population has remained stable for 20 years.  (Schaller et al. 1985, Morris 1998, Reid & Gong 1999, Zhi Lu et al. 2001)

The majority of the surviving (approximately 25) wild giant panda populations have fewer than 20 individuals.  However, there appear to be no major reductions in the genetic diversity of these populations, although overall they have likely experienced modest genetic losses from a much larger ancestral population. (Zhi Lu et al. 2001)  

Results of a new four-year survey announced in 2004 indicated that China's wild giant panda population includes approximately 1600 animals, about 40% more than previous estimates.  It is believed that the increase in the estimated population is due to more accurate and comprehensive survey methods rather than to an actual increase in the population.  For example, 11 more counties were found to have pandas than in the previous survey in the 1980's. (China Daily, WWF Newsroom) 

Location Map (40 Kb JPEG) (The Wild Ones) 
Distribution Map (9 Kb GIF) (Univ. Liverpool) 

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The greatest threat to panda survival is the loss and degradation of its habitat. The giant panda's range is steadily shrinking as logging operations - many of them illegal - fell trees, and peasants clear land for farming or cut down vegetation for fuel (Litchfield 1992). Already panda populations are small and isolated, confined to high ridges and hemmed in by cultivation. 

Panda pelts can bring two to three times the average annual income of a rural Chinese peasant in some Asian markets, and poaching was a serious problem in the past. However, as a result of enforcement and education, poaching intensity has dropped off, and it is no longer considered a major problem in substantial portions of the range. Giant pandas are still killed as victims of poachers' snares set for musk deer. (Reid & Gong 1999)  Pandas' body parts have not been sought for use in traditional Chinese medicine (Schaller et al. 1985).  

An indirect threat from habitat fragmentation relates to the panda's reliance on bamboo for food. Bamboo stands are subject to periodic large-scale die-offs, but in the past, when bamboo died off, pandas could migrate to areas with healthy bamboo. With fragmented habitat, this may not be possible. Since pandas are solitary and shy, they generally will not go into human-populated areas. Cut off from these areas, the pandas have no recourse to alternative food supplies when die-offs occur.

Conservation:

A logging ban declared at the end of 1998 has put most panda habitat off-limits to commercial logging.  Alternative forest uses that would be more ecologically friendly, such as commercial mushroom farming and ecotourism, are being evaluated. (Starbridge 2000) 


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

Length: 160 - 190 cm (63 - 75"); Weight - Females: 70 - 100 kg (154 - 220 lb), Males: 85 - 125 kg (187 - 275 lb)  (Reid & Gong 1999)

Habitat:

The giant panda occurs in montane forests with dense stands of bamboo at altitudes of 2700 - 3900 m (8850 - 12,800'). It may descend to as low as 800 m (2600') during winter (usually not below 1200 - 1300 m (3900 - 4300') because of man's impact on its habitat) to reach warmer temperatures.

The giant panda is one of the species that live in both the Mountains of Southwest China Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl.) and the Central China Temperate Forests Global 200 Ecoregion. (Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999)

Age to Maturity:

In the wild, pandas do not reach sexual maturity until they are at least 4.5 years old, and perhaps not until they are 7.5 years old (Reid & Gong 1999). In captivity, both sexes usually reach maturity at the age of 5.5 or 6.5 years (Schaller et al. 1985).

Gestation Period:

Gestation ranges from 97 - 181 days, with an average of about 135 days.  Delayed implantation apparently takes place, varying from 1.5 - 4.0 months in duration. (Schaller et al. 1985, Reid & Gong 1999)

Birth Season:

The mating season is mainly from mid-March to mid-May. During this period, females are only fertile for 2 - 7 days.  Females without young may also come into heat in September-October and very rarely in January-February. (Reid & Gong 1999) Births usually occur during July-September (from the Spring matings).  

Birth Rate:

The number of young per litter is usually 1 or 2, rarely 3. Average litter size is 1.7.   A captive female raises only 1 young if more than one are born, although a wild female may on rare occasions attempt to rear two. (Several instances of a female accompanied by 2 young, both presumably her own, have been reported from the Min and Qionglai Mountains.) If her infant dies before it is 6 months old, a female may have young in consecutive years; if it survives, the birth interval is 2 years. (Schaller et al. 1985)

Early Development:

The newborn giant panda is highly altricial, weighing only 100 - 200 g (4 - 8 oz) and being only 15 - 17 cm (6 - 6.7") long.  Its mother leaves it in the den (usually a rock cave or hollow base of a tree) for short periods during its first 4 - 6 weeks while she feeds and then starts carrying the young panda with her. A young panda becomes mobile at  5 - 6 months; it is weaned at about 46 weeks. (Schaller et al. 1985, Reid & Gong 1999)

Dispersal:

A young giant panda becomes independent of its mother at 12 - 22 months after birth, usually about 18 months.

Maximum Age:

One animal lived to an age of about 34 years in captivity. The lifespan in the wild is unknown.

Diet:

The giant panda's diet consists mainly (over 99% (Schaller et al. 1985)) of bamboo shoots, up to 13 mm (1/2") in diameter, and bamboo roots. It also eats bulbs of plants such as iris and crocus, grasses and occasionally fish, insects, carrion, eggs and small rodents.  

With a digestive system characteristic of a carnivore, the giant panda is very inefficient in digesting bamboo, utilizing an average of only 17 % of the dry matter.  Therefore, adult pandas must eat 10 - 18 kg (22 - 40 lb) of bamboo per day to get enough nourishment.

Behavior:

The giant panda does not make a permanent den but takes shelter in hollow trees, rock crevices and caves. It spends 10 - 12 hours a day feeding. It is mainly terrestrial but can climb trees well. Activity is largely crepuscular and nocturnal. It does not hibernate but descends to lower elevations in the winter to reach warmer temperatures.

The giant panda has an enlarged, movable wrist bone that serves as an opposable "false thumb" to the normal five toes on its front paws.  This bone is used to grasp bamboo stems while eating.

Social Organization:

Giant pandas are usually solitary, except during the mating season. Home ranges overlap extensively, with several pandas utilizing the same area.  However each female has a core area within her range that only she uses, and this tends to reduce direct contact by spacing individuals.

Giant pandas have a polygynous or promiscuous mating system; males compete for access to more than one adult female (Reid & Gong 1999).

Mortality and Survival:

Since a panda female may not produce her first offspring until the age of 7 years and probably raises only one young successfully every 3 years (a rate of 0.3 young per year), the population can sustain an annual total mortality rate no greater than about 8 % per year. (Schaller et al. 1985)

Density and Range:

Density of pandas within the 6000 sq km (2300 sq mi) of China's panda reserves averaged one animal per 9.3 - 10.7 sq km (3.6 - 4.1 sq mi).   But if only suitable habitat was considered, then, for example, four of the reserves had densities of one animal per 3.3 - 3.8 sq km (1.3 - 1.5 sq mi), one per 2.3 sq km (0.9 sq mi), one per 6.0 - 8.0 sq km (2.3 - 3.1 sq mi) and one per 4.8 - 9.7 sq km (1.9 - 3.7 sq mi). (Schaller et al. 1985)

Adult male home ranges overlap those of a number of females, as well as those of adjacent males.  Female ranges overlap each other to some extent but can have fairly exclusive, repeatedly used core ranges. The home ranges of male pandas lack discrete core areas, and male pandas move throughout their entire home ranges more frequently than do female pandas. Male home ranges tend to be somewhat larger than those of females.  Home range sizes for females appear to vary in response to changing bamboo availability, while for males home range sizes are determined by the number and availability of reproductive females. (Reid & Gong 1999)

Schaller et al. calculated home range sizes for 3 females and 2 males.  The home ranges varied from 3.9 - 6.4 sq km (1.5 - 2.5 sq mi).  This was before the dominant bamboo flowered and died in 1983.  After the dieback these   home ranges increased to 6.6 - 9.8 sq km (2.5 - 3.8 sq mi) within a few years of the dieback.  The home ranges of the females averaged 4.5 sq km (1.7 sq mi) and those of the males 6.1 sq km (2.4 sq mi).  Female pandas tended to concentrate their activity in a certain part of their home range; i.e., core areas.  Although total home range size was 3.9 - 6.4 sq km (1.5 - 2.5 sq mi), each female panda concentrated its activity in about 0.29 - 0.38 (mean 0.33)  sq km (0.11 - 0.15 (mean 0.13) sq mi). (Schaller et al. 1985)


References

Arkive, Burton & Pearson 1987, China Daily, China News Digest 2000, Cons. Intl., Curry-Lindahl 1972, Doan 2000, Focus 2004c, Giant-Panda.com, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Li 2002, Litchfield 1992, Macdonald 1984, Morris 1998, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Oryx 1975b, Oryx 1987d, Oryx 1995e, Oryx 1995q, Primack 1993, Reid & Gong 1999, Roberts 1992, Schaller et al. 1985, Schaller 1993, Starbridge 2000, Tan 1996, Univ. Liverpool, WCMC/WWF 1997, Wildl. Cons. 2000, The Wild Ones, WWF Newsroom, Zhi Lu et al. 2001


Top of Page | Search This Site

Home | Rarest Mammals | Species Index | Species Groups Index | Country Index | Links


Last modified: February 13, 2007;

© 1999 - 2014 Animal Info. Endangered animals of the world. SJ Contact Us.