The giant panda is a recognized animal the world over, so much that he's often regarded as the symbol for all endangered species. His home range has vastly decreased over the years, limiting the worldwide population to about 2,000 bears, including about 200 to 300 in captivity. The vast majority of pandas in captivity and wild are in China.
Living the High Life
If you check out a map of the world, you'll see the scope of home for the giant panda is extremely limited. This fellow is found only in the misty, forested mountains of central China. He used to live in lowland areas, but he's been forced to higher elevations, between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, due to farming and other development. Old growth forests provide hollow logs and stumps for the panda's den and shelter options. The panda tends to be a homebody, sticking to an area of less than 2 square miles; his range will expand if his chosen home doesn't provide ample bamboo.
Time for Dinner
Bamboo is the giant panda's meal of choice; it's about 99 percent of his diet, and he spends at least 12 hours every day eating. The plant is low in nutrients, so he requires a lot of it to meet his dietary requirements -- anywhere from 26 to 84 pounds a day. When he's not eating bamboo, he'll eat other grasses or small rodents. Since bamboo is about 50 percent water, it supplies the panda with water. However, he needs more water than bamboo provides, so he enjoys drinking fresh water from rivers and streams formed by melting snow.
From Tiny to Giant
Picture a stick of butter and you'll get the idea of the size of a newborn panda. A newborn cub is helpless and vulnerable, weighing only 3 to 5 ounces at birth. Hairless, blind and pink at birth, the tiny baby requires a lot of work by mom to stay healthy. He won't open his eyes until he's about 2 months old and it takes three months for him to become mobile. When he reaches his full size, he'll weigh up to 250 pounds and reach 2 to 3 feet tall at his shoulder when he stands on all fours. It's hard to believe he's 1/900th the size of his mother when he's born. When mature, he'll have his distinctive black and white fur coat, complete with eye patches, that keeps him warm in his cool surroundings. He'll also have strong jawbones and flattened back teeth for crushing and chewing bamboo stalks.
Living the Panda Life
The giant panda is a solitary guy, preferring to forage for bamboo on his own. He passes his time eating and sleeping, so he has little use for a social life. Unless it's mating season, or mom is with her cub, two pandas encountering each other are likely to swat, lunge or growl at each other to secure their space. He won't hibernate during the winter, but instead, he'll move to a lower elevation for warmer weather, returning to cooler, higher heights during the warm months. Panda cubs are at risk of predation from local predators, such as the golden cat, but once they reach about 110 pounds, they're generally safe. Much is unknown about this bear in his natural habitat, so scientists don't have a good estimate on his life span in the wild. Pandas in captivity tend to live between 20 and 30 years.
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