(Other Names: Bai Xiong, Bamboo Bear, Da Xiong Mao, Hua Xiong, Mo, Pi xiu, Panda, Panda Bear, Panda Géant, Panda Gigante)
1. Profile (Picture)
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.
*** The giant pandas 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)
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)
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.
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)
Size and Weight:
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
Last modified: February 13, 2007;