WASHINGTON, Aug 28: Native to central China, giant panda is recognized by the large distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body.
Giant pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan and as well as neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu. Despite its taxonomic classification as a carnivoran, its main diet is bamboo, but it also occasionally feeds on other grasses, wild tubers or even meat. They once lived in lowland areas, but farming, forest clearing and other development now restrict giant pandas to the mountains.
The giant panda is a conservation reliant vulnerable species. A 2007 report showed 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country. As of December 2014, 49 giant pandas lived in captivity outside China, living in 18 zoos in 13 different countries. 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.
About the size of an American black bear, giant pandas stand between 2 and 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) tall at the shoulder (on all four legs), and reach 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) long. Males are larger than females, weighing up to 250 pounds (113 kilograms) in the wild. Females rarely reach 220 pounds (104 kilograms).
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT
The giant panda is a terrestrial animal and primarily spends its life roaming and feeding in the bamboo forests of the Qinling Mountains and in the hilly province of Sichuan. Giant pandas are generally solitary, and each adult has a defined territory, and a female is not tolerant of other females in her range. Social encounters occur primarily during the brief breeding season in which pandas in proximity to one another will gather. After mating, the male leaves the female alone to raise the cub.
Giant pandas reach breeding maturity between four and eight years of age. They may be reproductive until about age 20. Female pandas ovulate only once a year, in the spring. A short period of two to three days around ovulation is the only time she is able to conceive. Calls and scents draw males and females to each other.
Female giant pandas give birth between 95 and 160 days after mating. Although females may give birth to two young, usually only one survives. Giant panda cubs may stay with their mothers for up to three years before striking out on their own. In her lifetime, she may successfully raise only five to eight cubs. The giant pandas’ naturally slow breeding rate prevents a population from recovering quickly from illegal hunting, habitat loss, and other human-related causes of mortality.
Scientists are not sure how long giant pandas live in the wild, but they are sure it is shorter than lifespans in zoos. Chinese scientists have reported zoo pandas as old as 35. The Smithsonian National Zoo’s Hsing-Hsing died at age 28 in 1999.