Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Giant Panda

So I guess it is about time I explored why my blog is called ‘The Culture of the Panda’. As is pretty obvious, this blog is about different aspects about Chinese cultural – information about different cities, festivals, and aspects of China. The Giant Panda, along with the Chinese Dragon and Red-crowned Crane, are listed as the National Animals of China. But I think out of these three animals, the Giant Panda is the most treasured as 1) the Chinese Dragon is mythical and 2) the Red-crowned Crane’s Latin name is translated into the ‘Japanese Crane’. Even from a young age, I was able to notice the importance of the Giant Panda, as when I was 5 or 6, my parents bought my sister and I stuffed Panda Bears – I named mine Pam Pam and my sister named her Shing Shing. I think that the Giant Panda is pretty much automatically synonymous with China. While the Giant Panda is pretty much synonymous with China, there are very few left in the wild. The estimate puts about 1,600 in the wild (though upper end sometimes put it at 2,000 – 3,000) and another 300 in captivity.

Geographic Location and Habitat

The Giant Panda is situated in a few of the mountain ranges in Central China—Sichuan, Shaanxi, and the Gansu provinces. They live in a broad leaf forest of bamboo at an elevation between 5,000 and 10,000 feetThe Giant Panda’s diet almost consists wholly of bamboo, and with land development, farming, and deforestation their habitat has dwindledThe following image is a representation of the habitat and its decline of their habitat over the last 2,000 years.

Image from Smithsonian Institute, National Zoo
Physical Description and Diet

When you think about what a Giant Panda looks like, black and white comes immediately to mind. They often have black fur on their ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, and shoulders, with the rest of their coat being white. There is speculation that the reason for this coloring is for effectiveness in camouflaging in snowy and rocky surroundings. The Giant Panda also have large molar teeth in order and strong jaw muscles to crush bamboo. As for their size, they can grow up to two to three feet at the shoulder, and up to four to six feet long. Males can weigh up to about 250 pounds, and females up to 220 pounds.

As mentioned earlier, the diet of the Giant Panda is mainly bamboo (they get water from the bamboo as well). They can eat anywhere between 20 – 30 pounds of bamboo a day. They do sometimes eat other small rodents and musk deer fawns. In zoos, they eat other stuff like sugar cane, rice gruel, high-fiber biscuits, apples, carrots, etc… But because of their diet, which is pretty low in nutrition, they then spend most of their time resting, eating, and seeking for more food.

Giant Panda eating some bamboo

Conservation and Diplomacy

Because of the low number of Giant Pandas in the wild, they are placed at a conservation status of Endangered. Besides the deforestation and land development that has placed limitation on their habitat, there are other factors that have contributed to their decline. The main one being their slow reproduction rate – a female panda can at most give birth to 5-8 cubs throughout her lifetime. Because of their low reproduction rate, there has been efforts by conservation reserves in breeding baby pandas. One of the most famous centers for this captive breeding program is the Wolong Nature Reserve. It is reported that so far with this breeding program, about 270 giant pandas have been born in captivity as of 2008.

Giant Pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve
As a way to signify the importance of the Giant Panda to China is that when these pandas are in captive elsewhere other than China, they are actually on ‘loan’ for a set period. For example, American Zoos actually have to pay the Chinese government about $1 million dollars a year in fees, as part of its typical 10-year contract. Also the Giant Panda has been used as diplomatic gift to other countries, though after 1984, the contract and fee was included, as well as the provision that any cubs born would be a property of the PRC. China actually gave two pandas to the United States in 1972, after Richard Nixon visited China – Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing. Another example of Giant Pandas being used as a diplomatic gift occurred in 2008, when two pandas were given to Taiwan from China. There names were quite significant as well as the combination of their names mean ‘reunion’ (Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan)

The Giant Panda plays an integral role in Chinese society as they are one of the symbols of China. While they are endangered, with the help of conservationists around the world, people can hope to appreciate them in the future.

1 comment:

  1. ooo…I love pandas. Here I bought a cuddly panda bag (L) that I can hardly put it down! I believe it is a GREAT find for every panda fanatic!