Pandas -- they’re some of the most recognizable, popular bears in the world. Unfortunately, their future is threatened. As humans proliferate and our need for space grows, habitats for both giant pandas and red pandas are shrinking at an alarming rate. Much of what we know about endangered pandas comes from zoos and research centers in the United States.
The giant panda's scientific name, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, means “black and white cat-footed animal.” Giant pandas have thick, wooly coats that insulate their bodies from the cold. Their characteristic black eye patches and predominately white bodies help distinguish them from a typical black bear. Giant pandas have stubby tails. Adults can be anywhere from 4 to 6 feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds.
Red pandas look quite different than giant pandas. Red pandas resemble raccoons with auburn fur. They weigh only 12 to 20 pounds. A red panda’s bushy tail can grow to 18 inches -- long enough to wrap around its body as a blanket.
Giant pandas live in the central mountains of China. They’re isolated to the north and central areas of the Sichuan Province, the southern mountains of the Gansu Province and the Qinling Mountains. These are high-altitude loving bears; they live amid dense bamboo and conifers between 5,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation.
The red panda’s habitat spans southern China and into Nepal, India, Bhutan and Myanmar. These animals prefer temperate and subtropical forests with bamboo thickets, fallen logs and tree stumps. The logs and trees help red pandas reach one of their favorite foods, bamboo leaves.
Both giant and red pandas are largely vegetarian and love to nosh on bamboo, which makes up 99 percent of a giant panda’s diet. Red pandas also regularly consume fruit, roots, succulent grasses, acorns, lichens, bird eggs, insects and grubs in addition.
Giant pandas spend at least half of their day feeding to maintain their weight and strength. Red pandas can limit their foraging to dusk and dawn.
Giant pandas are endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The organization says fewer than 2,500 mature giant pandas survive in the wild.
There are fewer than 10,000 mature red pandas left. The National Geographic Society considers this animal to be endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists it as "vulnerable," a more optimistic assessment.
The decline of red panda populations is blamed largely on deforestation. Their natural habitat shrinks as logging and agriculture increase. The same is true for giant pandas, although poaching also threatens their survival.
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Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.