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Is panda a bear or not and other vital information regarding the amazing animal.

Updated on June 12, 2012

Interesting Facts about Giant Panda


The question whether the giant panda is a bear or not has been a heated debate that has been ongoing for nearly 80 years. There are two sides of this argument. Some people believe that panda belongs in the same classification of bear, along with the polar bear, grizzly bear, black bear and brown bear, and there are people who believe that the panda belongs in the classification of the raccoons. This is mainly because the giant panda has got the characteristics of both raccoons as well as the bears.

Most scientists and researchers classify giant pandas as bears. Other bears usually roar where as the giant panda vocalize by bleating. Pandas were grouped under Procyonidae which means the raccoon family. This assessment was purely based on physiological indication. Giant pandas happen to be the first branch in the family tree of bears. Only during the late 1980s it was recognized that pandas are specifically more bears than raccoons. Various researches and case studies show that the panda is a bear and truly belongs to the Ursidae family. Apart from these facts it’s quite amusing to know that few scientists have intentions of having giant pandas placed under their own grouping but for a majority of bear researchers this idea does not seem to be a warranted one.

The scientific name of panda is Ailuropoda melanoleuca. The literal meaning of the term is ‘black and white cat foot’. The giant panda is a native animal of both central western and southwestern China. Though the giant panda belongs to the order called carnivore, almost 99% percent of its diet is bamboo. They mainly survive on two types of bamboo. One is umbrella bamboo and other one is arrow bamboo. Pandas which are out there in the wild sometimes eat grasses and even eat birds, some species of deer like the musk deers, monkeys and rodents. Giant pandas actually have the digestive track similar to that of bears and this why they eat meat Giant pandas which are kept in captivity are usually given honey, oranges, bananas, fish and certain special food preparations. The meat eating ability is one factor which brings about a strong connection between giant pandas and other bears. Latest sequencing of the giant panda genome discloses the fact that genes which helped them to taste meat were gone off course during the last four million years. This was the period when the pandas developed their vegetarian habits.

Though the giant panda is having certain characteristics like the bear, not all the characteristics are actually same like the bear. For instance, the size of the head is not similar to that of a bear since it is large in size. Apart from that, both the skull and dental structures of the giant panda does not resemble that of a bear. Unlike bears, they do not hibernate during winter season and have got another alternative method. Giant pandas usually come down from the mountainous regions to keep themselves warm and protected from the extreme cold climate. The pelt of the panda is thick. It normally consists of a crude outer layer and an intense woolen type under fur. The pelt of the giant panda feels oily to the touch. The oily defensive coating actually protects the panda from the very cold and moist climate in which the bears dwell in.

Another dissimilarity which is found between the giant panda and a bear is its ‘thumb’. It’s not a true finger like the bears have but an enlarged wrist bone which allows the panda to take hold of bamboo. The wrist bone is almost like an opposable thumb that primates like humans, monkeys and apes have.

Though giant pandas are considered to be bears, they don’t take shelter in a permanent den. Instead they reside in hollow trees, crevices of big rocks and inside caves. Pandas spend 10-12 hours in a day for feeding. A giant panda is a terrestrial animal but has got the ability for climbing trees too. Pandas are animals which have got an average life span. There was one case study which reported that a giant panda lived for 34 years in captivity and on the other hand, life span of the animal in the wild habitat is almost unknown.

Usually in the wild habitat, a giant panda reaches its maturity when they are 4.5 or 7.5 years old, but in captivity reaches the age of maturity when its 5.5 or 6.5 years old. Unlike other animals, the social organization of giant pandas happens to be quite interesting. Normally they are solitary animals and don’t mingle very much. The only exception to this habit is during its mating season. Giant pandas have got a polygynous mating system where the males contend for getting themselves close to more than one adult female. For the giant pandas, the mating season starts from mid March to mid May. At this point of time female giant pandas are only fertile for 2-7 days. Births of the newborn pandas occur usually during the months of July to September. There are chances that a female panda may not give birth to her first offspring until she is 7 years old and most likely will raise only one cub successfully every three years. Due to this aspect, young pandas will be born at an annual rate of 0.3 young per year. Baby pandas are very much altricial. They are really vulnerable with their eyes and ears closed and can hardly walk around. Usually the young pandas start to live independently of their mothers after 12 to 22 months of their birth.

It’s really a sad fact that the population of giant pandas is declining heavily due to poaching and cutting down of natural bamboo forests. Initially the giant panda population got extended throughout the vast regions of China, Vietnam and Myanmar. The major threat to the panda population and its drastic decline is the loss and ruining of its natural habitat in the name of progress and development of the human race. Poaching was another serious problem which was a real threat for the giant pandas. Lots of these animals were killed massively for their pelt. This dreaded situation has now become under control due to strict enforcement and the benefits of education and public awareness. Various organizations like WWF and other conservation and breeding centers are now a real boon for the giant pandas. Due to the strong initiatives and rescue actions taken by such great organizations and animal lovers, giant pandas will never become extinct from our planet.

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