Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
Population: 1,864 in the wild
Height: Up to 4 feet
Weight: 220-330 lbs
Average Lifespan: 20 years
Habitat: Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests of southwest China
The Giant Panda is the rarest member of the bear family and lives mainly in remote bamboo forests high in the mountains of southwest China. They prefer cool and wet locations and will climb up to 13,000 ft to feed on higher slopes during the summer. Pandas subsist almost entirely on bamboo and must eat 26 to 84 lbs each day, which takes a full 12 hours. They use their enlarged wrist bones that function as opposable thumbs to complete this formidable task. Pandas will sometimes eat birds or rodents as well.
Giant Pandas are solitary creatures and they have a heightened sense of smell that males use to avoid each other and find females for mating. After a 5-month gestation period, Pandas usually give birth to one or two cubs which, when newly born, are about the size of a stick of butter - 1/900th the size of their mother. Cubs are born blind and cannot crawl until they are three months old. They will grow to be about 330 lbs as an adult. They are also excellent tree climbers, despite their large size, and efficient swimmers.
Pandas are peaceful creatures with a very distinct black and white coat. They are adored by the world and considered a national treasure in China. The Giant Panda is always the most popular attractions at breeding centers and zoos. What we know about the creature comes from studying these zoo animals because their wild counterparts are so elusive.
The Giant Panda is endangered due to habitat fragmentation. China's Yangtze Basin is the geographic and economic heart of the booming country. Railroads and roads are continuously fragmenting the forests, isolating the panda populations and preventing mating. Forest destruction also reduces the Pandas' access to bamboo. China has established more than 50 panda reserves, but only around 61% of the population is currently protected by them.