The Rare and Lovable
by Dawn V. Valencia
Recently I was roaming through a local mall a couple of Saturdays ago (and if shopping malls on Saturdays don't qualify as zoos, I don't know what does). I was standing in a toy store looking at some stuffed animals, ok, I was playing with them, but I digress. Anyway, a little girl who was standing near me grabbed a stuffed Panda off of the shelf, squeezed it, and carried it off to her mother as a potential purchase. She couldn't have been more than four years old, but she was immediately attracted to this little stuffed bear. I agree, I think it's hard to not like the Panda."
The Giant Panda’s black eye patches, round body, and stubby black ears are familiar to animal lovers everywhere. Fossil records reveal that the Panda has been evolving for 2 million years, but is still a relatively new animal in the western world. In 1896, an article appearing in the journal of the Paris Museum of Natural History brought the Panda to the attention of zoologists in the west. The first live Panda arrived in the United States in 1936. Its physical structure is like a carnivore; however, in practice, the Panda is a herbivore, subsisting almost exclusively on a vegetarian diet of bamboo and other fibrous plants such as sugarcane and reeds. An adult Panda can eat more than 35 pounds of bamboo in a single day.
Except during mating season, Pandas are loners by nature. Giant Pandas mate in the late spring and early summer. After mating, the male and female go their separate ways, roaming around through the day and having no regular dens. While they are somewhat nomadic, the normal range of the Giant Panda is limited to a radius of 2 to 3 kilometers. In the wild a Panda may live to age 25, but in captivity the Panda has an average lifespan of only 20 years.
It is estimated that the Pandas’ natural habitat of Sichuan Province in China is host to between 1,000 and 1,500 Giant Pandas. Less than 100 more Pandas live in zoos inside and outside of China. Breeding efforts have had little success to date. The survival of the Panda is focused on international efforts of research, breeding programs, and habitat protection. If these efforts are successful, it is projected that by the year 2025 the Panda population could be increased to as many as 5,000 animals; otherwise, the population faces extinction. To help fight the battle against extinction, the San Diego Zoological Society entered into an agreement with the Chinese government to bring two Giant Pandas to the San Diego Zoo. These two Pandas , Bai Yun and Shi Shi, arrived on September 10, 1996 to begin a twelve-year conservation study. In January 1998, the Pacific Bell Foundation announced an unprecedented three-year grant to help the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Giant Panda conservation, education and research efforts.
It is not too late to save the Giant Panda, but its future survival depends on quick and decisive action. To learn more about the conservation efforts, be sure to visit Bai Yun and Shi Shi at the Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo (http://www.sandiegozoo.org/pandas/pandacam/index.html). They are usually on exhibit from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., though they are sometimes off exhibit for breeding purposes. Please call the Giant Panda hotline at 1-888-MYPANDA for updates.
Would you like to learn more about the Giant Pandas of China? Please check the various book titles our Jade Dragon Online Bookstore offers.