The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, literally "black and white cat-foot"; Chinese: 大熊猫; pinyin: dà xióng māo, literally "big bear cat"), also known as panda bear or simply 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. The name "giant panda" is sometimes used to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda's diet is over 99% bamboo. Giant 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, but also in neighbouring Shaanxi and Gansu. As a result of farming, deforestation, and other development, the giant panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived.
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. Some reports also show that the number of giant pandas in the wild is on the rise. In March 2015, Mongabay stated that the wild giant panda population had increased by 268, or 16.8%, to 1,864. In 2016, the IUCN reclassified the species from "endangered" to "vulnerable".
For many decades, the precise taxonomic classification of the giant panda was under debate because it shares characteristics with both bears and raccoons. However, molecular studies indicate the giant panda is a true bear, part of the family Ursidae. These studies show it differentiated early (about 19 million years ago) from the main ursine stock; since it is the most basal member of the group, it is equidistant from all other extant ursids. The giant panda has been referred to as a living fossil.
Despite the shared name, habitat type, and diet, as well as a unique enlarged bone called the pseudo thumb (which helps them grip the bamboo shoots they eat) the giant panda and red panda are only distantly related.
In general, A. melanoleuca has a round head, stocky body, and short tail. The shoulder height is 65-70 cm. It is well-known for its distinctive black and white markings. The limbs, eyes, ears, and shoulders are all black and the rest of the body is white. In some areas the black actually has a chesnut-red tinge. The dark markings around the eyes may be the reason for these animals' popularity giving them a wide-eyed, juvenile appearance. An enlarged shoulder and neck region along with a smaller back end gives giant pandas an ambling gait. A baculum (bony rod in soft tissue of penis) is present as in many other mammals. However, in other bears it is straight and forwardly directed, while in giant pandas it is "S" shaped and backwardly directed. Giant pandas also have several adaptations to the skull. They have a large sagittal crest that has become wider and deeper resulting in powerful jaws. The molars and premolars are wider and flatter than other bears' and they have developed extensive ridges and cusps in order to grind tough bamboo. A notable feature on these animals is an extra, opposable digit on the hand known as "the panda's thumb." It has caused confusion in the past as to these bears' classification. This digit is not actually a thumb but a pad of skin overlying a radial sesamoid structure (wrist bone).
Females in this species increase their scent markings as well as become more vocal when sexually receptive. A study between sexually active and sexually inactive pandas suggested that scent markings relate to sexual activity and captive inhabitance could be the cause for the poor reproductive ability. Males may also compete for access to a female.
Mating occurs from March to May. The female is in estrous for roughly 1-3 days. There is usually a delay of implantation which can last 1.5 months to 4 months. This may be due to climatic conditions so that the young is born at a fairly stable time. Females are less active as estrous begins, however they become restless, lose their appetite, and their vulva swells. Most of the young are born in August and September. Actual embryonic development lasts about 1.5 months. At birth, giant pandas, like all other bears are blind and helpless; but unlike most bears at birth, giant panda cubs are covered with a thin layer of fur. Newborn cubs weigh 85 to 140 grams. Immediately after birth the mother helps place the infant bear into a position to suckle. Suckling takes place up to 14 times a day and lasts for periods of up to 30 minutes. Infant pandas open their eyes at 3 weeks and cannot move around on their own until 3-4 months and are weaned at about 46 weeks. A cub may remain with its mother up to 18 months. Breeding these bears in captivity has been an incredible challenge. Giant pandas are notorious for their reluctance to breed in captivity.
Lifespan - Longevity
One giant panda lived to an age of about 34 years in captivity but that is uncommon. Normal max life expectancy in captivity is 26 years, surprisingly it is sometimes as much as 30 years. Lifespan in the wild is not known.