The Giant panda is a bear of medium to large size with a large head, small eyes, long muzzle, large nose and short tail. It has a very good sense of smell. It has large jaws with strong muscles, and together with its flat molars, is able to crush bamboo leaves and stems. Its thick fur is creamy-white with big black patches on shoulders, ears and nose, with distinctive black patches around its eyes. An extension of its wrist bone, which serves like a thumb, enables them to grip bamboo stems.
Giant pandas live in several mountain ranges in China, in the central provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu. They inhabit coniferous and broadleaf forests at elevations from 5,000 and 10,000 feet, where there is a thick understory of bamboo.
Giant pandas live in trees and caves rather than building shelters. They are good climbers and can swim. It is a solitary animal, occupying a territory which it marks with secretions from its scent glands and by scratch marks on trees. They spend 12 to 15 hours a day chewing bamboo, while sitting down with their front paws holding onto the plants. This animal seems to spend its entire day eating or sleeping. These pandas are crepuscular, being active during the day as well as the night.
A panda in the wild eats 99 percent bamboo. They eat as much as 18 kg of bamboo every day. It may also eat other grasses and prey on small rodents and musk deer fawns.
Giant pandas are polygamous, breeding between March and May. The female attracts a male through a series of bleats and groans. Gestation lasts about 5 months, then the female gives birth in a cave or base of a hollow tree to 1 or 2 cubs. Cubs are born blind and toothless, weighing only 90 to 130 grams, or about 1/800th of the mother's weight. Cubs will stay in a den until 6 months of age when they are able to trot alongside their mother. They are weaned at about a year old but stay with mother for another 6 months. Some cubs may not leave the mother for several years until she falls pregnant again. Giant pandas are sexually mature between 4 and 8 years old.
Humans are the biggest threat to these animals living in the Chinese mountains because they have hunted them for their fur. They are under extreme threat due to habitat loss from deforestation and land clearance. Furthermore, climate change kills bamboo, 99% of a panda's diet.
The Giant panda is listed as Endangered (EN) in the List of Threatened Species. About 1,800 remain in the wild. Over 300 live in breeding centers and zoos, mostly in China.
The Giant panda is closely connected to the abundance of bamboo and vice versa. They help to distribute bamboo seeds. As panda numbers decrease, so does bamboo. Panda protected areas have been put in place to help protect native ecosystems.