The Panda - Bamboo Lover
When I think of bamboo my mind goes to the biggest fan of and those most dependent on the plant: panda bears. What better place to start than with panda cubs?
The picture of 14 cubs was taken at the Chengdu and Bifengxia Panda Breeding Center in September 2013 (featured in travelchinaguide.com and in chengduplaces.com). The center, located in Sichuan Province bamboo groves, is open to visitors if you are fortunate enough to be able to travel there and overdose on total cuteness. You can also sign up for the China Panda Tour. The Voice of America website has a video of the babies at the center in lieu of travel.
Mama panda often weighs-in at 200+ pounds. The newborn is the size and weight of a stick of butter. Mathematically it works out to the baby is 900 times smaller than the mother.
Most pandas give birth to only one, but twins aren’t uncommon. However, mama only takes care of one at a time; possibly because she has only enough milk for a single cub. When sets of twins are born in captivity, veterinarians ‘cub swap’ leaving one with the mother while the other moves to a nursery incubator and its round-the-clock caretakers. Each week the cubs trade places. In this way both have quality time to bond with the mother.
The panda breeding centers offer quality care and have experienced a 90 percent survival rate with captive born cubs. Because of their work the population is growing though still way too small with fewer than 2,000 pandas living in the wild at this time. People are also helping pandas reclaim their habitat.
Panda Note: Unless a genetic test is completed we cannot tell a male from a female (they know of course, but we don’t) until they are four years old.
Bamboo: Saving the Habitat is Important.
Once upon a time, the panda occupied a large territory of southwestern China, parts of Burma and Vietnam -- where bamboo flourishes. The plant is a panda-necessity because 12 to 16 hours a day, each day, pandas eat bamboo. Since they do not hibernate multiply the amount of food by 365 days a year.
Bamboo leaves contain protein while the stems provide high fiber and water. A favorite? They love new bamboo shoots and it is not unusual for one panda to eat up to 84 pounds at a sitting.
Pandas, once upon a time, had the choice of twenty-five different species of bamboo but because of human logging and land clearing there are only a few types now (the panda needs at least two species and they tend to be picky eaters).
If allowed to thrive (sans logging, etc.,) bamboo grows quickly. The perennial grass can shoot up to a foot or more a day, which means hope in areas of protected panda habitats.
Panda Note 2: Panda paws have six digits to aid in holding the bamboo.
We can’t leave our panda story without mentioning Tai Shan, the ‘International Ambassador for Giant Pandas’ and several year resident of The National Zoo in Washington DC, adored by millions all over the world.
All pandas born in captivity must be returned to China when they are two years old. In this light, the bears are leased and the money is donated to the Panda Conservation Center. When the time came, Tai Shan, and his traveling panda companion, Mei Lan, from the Atlanta Zoo, traveled to the Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya’an Sichuan on a ‘panda plane’ with a giant panda on its side. Tai Chan’s panda keepers traveled with them.
The bears had to get used to a new diet and a new language. The change in diet meant being weaned from high-fiber biscuits and adjusting to steamed bread and bamboo shoots. The zoo-keepers hired an English-Chinese translator so the pandas could understand basic commands.
Tai Shan grew a little older and then moved to “Lovers Lane” for breeding season.