Giant Panda (Ailuropoda Melanoleuca)
The panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, lit. “black and white cat-foot”; simplified Chinese: 大熊猫; traditional Chinese: 大熊貓; pinyin: dàxióngmāo, lit. “big(大 dà) bear(熊 xióng) cat(猫 māo)”), also known as panda bear or thegiant panda to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda, is a bear native to south central China. It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the panda’s diet is over 99% bamboo. Pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.
The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. As a result of farming, deforestation, and other development, the panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived.
The panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. A 2007 report shows 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country. Wild population estimates vary; one estimate shows that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild, while a 2006 study via DNA analysis estimated that this figure could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000. Some reports also show that the number of pandas in the wild is on the rise. However, the IUCN does not believe there is enough certainty yet to reclassify the species from Endangered to Vulnerable.
While the dragon has often served as China’s national emblem, internationally the panda appears at least as commonly. As such, it is becoming widely used within China in international contexts, for example as one of the fiveFuwa mascots of the Beijing Olympics.
The giant panda has a black-and-white coat. Adults measure around 1.2 to 1.8 m (4 to 6 ft) long, including a tail of about 13 cm (5.1 in), and 60 to 90 cm (2.0 to 3.0 ft) tall at the shoulder. Males can weigh up to 160 kg (350 lb). Females (generally 10–20% smaller than males) can weigh as little as 75 kg (165 lb), but can also weigh up to 125 kg (276 lb). Average adult weight is 100 to 115 kg (220 to 254 lb).
The giant panda has a body shape typical of bears. It has black fur on its ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, arms and shoulders. The rest of the animal’s coat is white. Although scientists do not know why these unusual bears are black and white, speculation suggests that the bold coloring provides effective camouflage in their shade-dappled snowy and rocky habitat. The giant panda’s thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat. The panda’s skull shape is typical of durophagous carnivorans. It has evolved from previous ancestors to exhibit larger molars with increased complexity and expanded temporal fossa.
The giant panda’s paw has a “thumb” and five fingers; the “thumb” – actually a modified sesamoid bone – helps it to hold bamboo while eating. Stephen Jay Gould discusses this feature in his book of essays on evolution and biology, The Panda’s Thumb.
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