AskDefine | Define panda

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1 large black-and-white herbivorous mammal of bamboo forests of China and Tibet; in some classifications considered a member of the bear family or of a separate family Ailuropodidae [syn: giant panda, panda bear, coon bear, Ailuropoda melanoleuca]
2 reddish-brown Old World raccoon-like carnivore; in some classifications considered unrelated to the giant pandas [syn: lesser panda, red panda, bear cat, cat bear, Ailurus fulgens]

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see Panda



  • /ˈpændə/, /"p

Extensive Definition

The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, "black-and-white cat-foot"; ; literally: "big bear cat") is a mammal classified in the bear family (Ursidae), native to central-western and southwestern China. The panda was previously thought to be a member of the Procyonidae. It is easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though belonging to the order Carnivora, the panda has a diet which is 99% bamboo. Pandas may eat other foods such as honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges and bananas when available.
Giant Pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China, in Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. They once lived in lowland areas, but farming, forest clearing, and other development now restrict giant pandas to the mountains.
The Giant Panda is an endangered species and highly threatened. According to the latest report, China has 239 giant pandas in captivity (128 of them in Wolong and 67 in Chengdu), and another 27 pandas living outside the country. It also estimated that around 1,590 pandas are currently living in the wild. Though reports show that the numbers of wild pandas are on the rise, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) believes there is not enough certainty to remove pandas from the endangered animal list.
While the dragon has historically served as China's national emblem, in recent decades the Giant Panda has also served as an emblem for the country. Its image appears on a large number of modern Chinese commemorative silver, gold, and platinum coins. The species is a favorite of the public, at least in part because many people find that it has a baby-like cuteness. Also, it is usually depicted reclining peacefully eating bamboo, as opposed to hunting, which adds to its image of innocence. Though giant pandas are often assumed docile, they have been known to attack humans, presumably out of irritation rather than predatory behavior.


The Giant Panda has a black-and-white coat. Adults measure around 1.5 m long and around 75 cm tall, at the shoulder. Males are 10-20% larger than females. Males can weigh up to 115 kg (253 pounds). Females are generally smaller than males, and can occasionally weigh up to 100 kg (220 pounds). Giant Pandas live in mountainous regions, such as Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi, and Tibet.
The giant panda, a black-and-white bear, has a body typical of bears. It has black fur on ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, and shoulders. The rest of the animal's coat is white. Although scientists do not know why these unusual bears are black and white, some speculate that the bold coloring provides effective camouflage into their shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings. The panda's thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat. Giant pandas have large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo. Many people find these chunky, lumbering animals to be cute, but giant pandas can be as dangerous as any other bear.
The Giant Panda has a paw, with a "thumb" and five fingers; the "thumb" is actually a modified sesamoid bone, which helps the panda to hold bamboo while eating. Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay about this, then used the title The Panda's Thumb for a book of essays concerned with evolution, punctuated equilibrium, intelligent design, the Piltdown Man hoax, Down syndrome, and the relationship between dinosaurs and birds among others.
The Giant Panda has the second longest tail in the bear family, it being 4-6 inches long. The longest belongs to the sloth bear.
Giant Pandas can usually live to be 20-30 years old in captivity.


Until recently, scientists thought giant pandas spent most of their lives alone, with males and females meeting only during the breeding season. Recent studies paint a different picture, in which small groups of pandas share a large territory and sometimes meet outside the breeding season.
Like most subtropical mammals, but unlike most bears, the giant panda does not hibernate.


The panda has pushed its habitat to a higher altitude and limited available space. The timber profit gained from harvesting bamboo has destroyed a significant portion of the food supply for the wild panda. The population of wild pandas decreased by 50 percent from 1973 to 1984.
Twenty-five species of bamboo are eaten by pandas in the wild, such as Fargesia dracocephala and Fargesia rufa. Only a few bamboo species are widespread at the high altitudes pandas now inhabit. Bamboo leaves contain the highest protein levels; stems have less.
Because of the synchronous flowering, death, and regeneration of all bamboo within a species, pandas must have at least two different species available in their range to avoid starvation. The panda's round face is an adaptation to its bamboo diet. Their powerful jaw muscles attach from the top of the head to the jaw. Large molars crush and grind fibrous plant material. While primarily herbivorous, the panda still retains decidedly ursine teeth, and will eat meat, fish, and eggs when available. In captivity, zoos typically maintain the pandas' bamboo diet, though some will provide specially formulated biscuits or other dietary supplements.


For many decades the precise taxonomic classification of the panda was under debate as both the giant panda and the distantly related red panda share characteristics of both bears and raccoons. However, genetic testing suggests that giant pandas are true bears and part of the Ursidae family, though they differentiated early in history from the main ursine stock. The giant panda's closest ursine relative is the Spectacled Bear of South America. Disagreement still remains about whether or not the red panda belongs in Ursidae, the raccoon family Procyonidae, or in its own family, Ailuridae. The giant panda has been referred to as a living fossil.
The red panda and the giant panda, although completely different in appearance, share several features. They both live in the same habitat, they both live on a similar bamboo diet and they both share a unique enlarged bone called the pseudo thumb, which allows them to grip the bamboo shoots they eat.


Two subspecies of giant panda have been recognized on the basis of distinct cranial measurements, color patterns, and population genetics (Wan et al., 2005).
  • Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca consists of most extant populations of panda. These animals are principally found in Sichuan and display the typical stark black and white contrasting colors.
  • Qinling Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis is restricted to the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi at elevations of 1300–3000 m. The typical black and white pattern of Sichuan Pandas is replaced with a dark brown versus light brown pattern. The skull of A. m. qinlingensis is smaller than its relatives, and it has larger molars.

Uses and human interaction

Unlike many other animals in ancient China, pandas were rarely thought to have medical uses. In the past, pandas were thought to be rare and noble creatures; the mother of Emperor Wen of Han was buried with a panda skull in her vault. Emperor Taizong of Tang is said to have given Japan two pandas and a sheet of panda skin as a sign of goodwill.
The giant panda was first made known to the West in 1869 by the French missionary Armand David, who received a skin from a hunter on 11 March 1869. The first westerner known to have seen a living giant panda is the German zoologist Hugo Weigold, who purchased a cub in 1916. Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., became the first foreigners to shoot a panda, on an expedition funded by the Field Museum of Natural History in the 1920s. In 1936, Ruth Harkness became the first Westerner to bring back a live giant panda, a cub named Su-Lin who went to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. These activities were halted in 1937 because of wars; and for the next half of the century, the West knew little of pandas.

Panda diplomacy

Loans of giant pandas to American and Japanese zoos formed an important part of the diplomacy of the People's Republic of China in the 1970s, as it marked some of the first cultural exchanges between the People's Republic and the West. This practice has been termed "Panda Diplomacy".
By the year 1984, however, pandas were no longer used as agents of diplomacy. Instead, China began to offer pandas to other nations only on 10-year loans. The standard loan terms include a fee of up to US$ 1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born during the loan are the property of the People's Republic of China. Since 1998, due to a WWF lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only allows a U.S. zoo to import a panda if the zoo can ensure that China will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for wild pandas and their habitat.
In May 2005, the People's Republic of China offered Taiwan (Republic of China) two pandas as a gift. This proposed gift was met by polarized opinions from Taiwan due to complications stemming from cross-strait relations. As of November 2007, Taiwan has not accepted the offer.


Giant pandas are a critically endangered species, threatened by continued habitat loss and by a very low birthrate, both in the wild and in captivity.
Pandas have been a target for poaching by locals since ancient times, and by foreigners since they were introduced to the West. Starting in the 1930s, foreigners were unable to poach pandas in China because of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War, but pandas remained a source of soft furs for the locals. The population boom in China after 1949 created stress on the pandas' habitat, and the subsequent famines led to the increased hunting of wildlife, including pandas. During the Cultural Revolution, all studies and conservation activities on the pandas were stopped. After the Chinese economic reform, demand for panda skins from Hong Kong and Japan led to illegal poaching for the black market, acts generally ignored by the local officials at the time. Though the Wolong National Nature Reserve was set up by the PRC government in 1958 to save the declining panda population, few advances in the conservation of pandas were made, due to inexperience and insufficient knowledge of ecology. Many believed that the best way to save the pandas was to cage them. As a result, pandas were caged at any sign of decline, and suffered from terrible conditions. Because of pollution and destruction of their natural habitat, along with segregation due to caging, reproduction of wild pandas was severely limited. In the 1990s, however, several laws (including gun controls and the removal of resident humans from the reserves) helped the chances of survival for pandas. With these renewed efforts and improved conservation methods, wild pandas have started to increase in numbers in some areas, even though they still are classified as a rare species.
In 2006, scientists reported that the number of pandas living in the wild may have been underestimated at about 1,000. Previous population surveys had used conventional methods to estimate the size of the wild panda population, but using a new method that analyzes DNA from panda droppings, scientists believe that the wild panda population may be as large as 3,000. Although the species is still endangered, it is thought that the conservation efforts are working. As of 2006, there were 40 panda reserves in China, compared to just 13 reserves two decades ago.


North America

As of 2007, five major North American zoos have giant pandas:

Notable North American-born pandas


Three zoos in Europe show giant pandas:
  • Zoologischer Garten Berlin, Berlin, Germany — home of Bao Bao, age 27, the oldest male panda living in captivity; he has been in Berlin for 25 years and has never reproduced.
  • Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria — home to Yang Yang (F) and Long Hui (M), born in Wolong, China in 2000, and their new cub, Fu Long (M), born on August 23, 2007 at the zoo. The cub was the first to be born in Europe in 25 years.
  • Zoo Aquarium, Madrid, Spain -- home of Bing Xing (M) and Hua Zuiba (F). Arrived in Madrid on September 8, 2007.
London, Moscow and Paris no longer have pandas.


  • Chengdu Research base of Giant Panda Breeding, Chengdu, Sichuan, China - Home to a number of captive giant pandas, including 2-year old Xiong Bang (M), who just arrived from Japan. Twelve cubs were born here in 2006.
  • Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, Sichuan, China - Seventeen cubs were born here in 2006.
Pandas in Japan have double names: a Japanese name and a Chinese name. Three zoos in Japan show giant pandas:
  • Ueno Zoo, Tokyo - home of Ling Ling (M), he was the only panda with "Japanese citizenship", and passed away April 30, 2008 at the age of 22.
  • Oji Zoo, Kobe, Hyōgo - home of Kou Kou (M), Tan Tan (F)
  • Adventure World, Shirahama, Wakayama - Ei Mei (M), Mei Mei (F), Rau Hin (F), Ryu Hin and Syu Hin (male twins), and Kou Hin (M). Yu Hin (M) went to China in 2004. In December 2006, twin cubs were born to Ei Mei and Mei Mei.


  • Adelaide Zoo, Adelaide - future home to Wangwang (M) and Funi (F). Will arrive in 2009.

Pandas on television

The first sequences of pandas in the wild were shot by Franz Camenzind for ABC in about 1982. They were bought by BBC Natural History Unit for their weekly magazine show Nature.
Recently NHNZ has featured pandas in two documentaries. Panda Nursery (2006) featured China’s Wolong Nature Reserve in the mountains in Sichuan Province, forty giant pandas and a dedicated team of staff play a crucial role in ensuring the survival of the species. As part of the Reserve’s panda breeding programme, a revolutionary new method of rearing twin cubs called ‘swap-raising’ has been developed. Each cub is raised by both its natural mother and one of the Reserve’s veterinarians, Wei Rongping, to increase the chances of both cubs surviving. Growing Up: Giant Panda (2003) featured Chengdu Giant Panda Center in south-west China as one of the best in the world. But with female pandas' short fertility cycles and low birth rates, raising the captive panda population is an uphill battle.
In Hong Kong, there is a Panda Channel on Now Broadband TV, for citizens in Hong Kong to watch the four giant pandas in Ocean Park Hong Kong directly through their broadband TV decoders. An Internet live is also available on the Panda Channel Website for people worldwide to watch the giant pandas through four cameras individually.
The panda Chow-Ling made an appearance in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.



  • (Listed as Endangered [EN B1+2c, C2a v2.3]).
  • AFP (via Discovery Channel) (2006, June 20). Panda Numbers Exceed Expectations.
  • Associated Press (via CNN) (2006). Article link.
  • Catton, Chris (1990). Pandas. Christopher Helm.
  • Friends of the National Zoo (2006). Panda Cam: A Nation Watches Tai Shan the Panda Cub Grow. New York: Fireside Books.
  • Goodman, Brenda (2006, February 12). Pandas Eat Up Much of Zoos' Budgets. The New York Times.
  • Giant Pandas
  • Panda Facts At a Glance (N.d.). WWF China.
  • Ryder, Joanne (2001). Little panda: The World Welcomes Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Schaller, George B. (1993). The Last Panda. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.
  • Wan, Q.-H., H. Wu, and S.-G. Fang (2005). "A New Subspecies of Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) from Shaanxi, China. Journal of Mammalogy 86: 397–402.
  • Warren, Lynne (2006, July). "Panda, Inc." National Geographic. (About Mei Xiang, Tai Shan and the Wolong Panda Research Facility in Chengdu China).
panda in Afrikaans: Panda
panda in Arabic: باندا عملاقة
panda in Franco-Provençal: Pandâ g·èant
panda in Bengali: পান্ডা
panda in Bosnian: Panda
panda in Bulgarian: Голяма панда
panda in Catalan: Panda gegant
panda in Czech: Panda velká
panda in Danish: Panda
panda in German: Großer Panda
panda in Spanish: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
panda in Esperanto: Granda pando
panda in Basque: Panda handi
panda in French: Panda géant
panda in Western Frisian: Bamboebear
panda in Gan Chinese: 貓熊
panda in Hakka Chinese: Thai-yùng-meu
panda in Korean: 자이언트판다
panda in Croatian: Veliki panda
panda in Ido: Pando
panda in Indonesian: Panda
panda in Icelandic: Pandabjörn
panda in Italian: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
panda in Hebrew: פנדה ענק
panda in Georgian: ბამბუკის დათვი
panda in Latin: Panda maior
panda in Latvian: Lielā panda
panda in Lithuanian: Didžioji panda
panda in Lojban: cionmau la barda
panda in Hungarian: Óriáspanda
panda in Malay (macrolanguage): Panda Gergasi
panda in Dutch: Reuzenpanda
panda in Japanese: ジャイアントパンダ
panda in Norwegian: Panda
panda in Polish: Panda wielka
panda in Portuguese: Panda-gigante
panda in Romanian: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
panda in Russian: Большая панда
panda in Sicilian: Panda gianti
panda in Simple English: Giant Panda
panda in Slovak: Panda veľká
panda in Slovenian: Orjaški panda
panda in Serbian: Џиновска панда
panda in Sundanese: Panda
panda in Finnish: Isopanda
panda in Swedish: Jättepanda
panda in Tamil: பாண்டா
panda in Thai: แพนด้ายักษ์
panda in Vietnamese: Gấu trúc lớn
panda in Turkish: Büyük panda
panda in Ukrainian: Велика панда
panda in Contenese: 熊貓
panda in Chinese: 大熊猫
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