Giant Pandas were once widespread in mountain forests across south-western China, along the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. Clearing has reduced their habitat to isolated patches surrounded by farmland. Even though they are found in protected reserves, their small population size makes them vulnerable to changes in their environment, such as periodic die-off of bamboo.
Amazing Giant Pandas
With their distinctive black and white coats, large heads and gentle habits, Giant Pandas are an international symbol for conservation. They were long thought to be part of the racoon family, but genetic studies show they are more closely related to bears. This explains why they have large canine teeth despite a largely vegetarian diet.
Except when females are raising their cubs, Giant Pandas live a solitary existence in well-defined territories. During the breeding season, several males may compete for access to a female, displaying aggression in complete contrast to their placid reputation.
The tiny, blind, newborn cubs weigh just 100–200 g when they are born. They have no black markings and are completely dependent upon their mother. If more than one cub is born, females usually raise only one cub. Although cubs are weaned at about nine months of age, they remain with their mothers for up to 18 months.
Bamboo is the major component of their diet, but wild Giant Pandas also eat bulbs, grasses and some small animals. They are difficult to breed in captivity, but in wild areas they reproduce slowly but steadily. Without conservation efforts, this species would probably be extinct.