The A. melanoleuca species, better known as the Giant Pandas, or simply pandas, are native to China and thrive in the warm temperate biome of coniferous forests. Pandas are the only mammals who give birth to babies so much tinier than themselves; a panda cub is approximately 1/900th the size of its mother. While they maintain a mostly herbivorous lifestyle, pandas have a digestive system similar to their carnivorous bear relatives in order to properly digestive their copious intake of bamboo.
Their strong jaws and molars facilitate breaking down this fibrous vegetation and also serve as defense against potential predators in their ecosystem, such as snow leopards and jackals. Although not terribly close to extinction, the Giant Pandas are still on the endangered species list and it is important that people are aware of the gentle, black-and-white bears’ condition. Pandas, who live alone throughout their adulthood, have been coerced to migrate from their lowland homeland to various Chinese mountain ranges in search of their main food source.
Their original valley home was developed by humans in efforts to further industrialize, alas destroying bamboo in the process. In this way, humans pose the biggest threat to these mammals and therefore it is the humans’ duty to save the Giant Pandas from extinction. Giant Pandas, who resemble large, cuddly teddy bears, reside in various mountain ranges within China, specifically in the south-western Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu areas. Originally, the lowlands were the place they called home, but, due to deforestation of bamboo, they were relocated to higher elevation.
In the mountains, the climate is fairly temperate and moderate rainfall reinforces bamboo growth, the panda’s fundamental food supply. The migratory patterns of pandas can thus be classified as only when in search of food. Pandas have insulating white fur to keep them warm in the winter and the black patches situated over their eyes, ears, arms, and legs serve as camouflage, simulating the shadows within the forest. Subspecies of the pandas are their relatives in the Qinling area, whose markings, instead of black, vary from a light to dark brown color.
Both species of pandas, however, average taller than five feet when standing, about three feet when on all fours, and their weight surpasses the 200 pound mark by the time they are eight years old; at this point of their maturity they also begin to reproduce and may continue to do so until the near end of their lives, a span of about 20 to 30 years, depending on whether they live in captivity or in the wild. True to most organisms, the males are generally larger than the females and weigh around 250 pounds upon reaching adulthood. Delving into the more scientific aspect of these mammals, they fall under the genus Ailuropoda, family Ursidae (which entails all bears), phylum Chordata, and kingdom Animalia. The Giant Pandas are very adamant about not being grouped together with the red pandas, who are an entirely separate family. Most adaptations of the A. melanoleuca species have resulted from their bamboo consumption, of which they eat an average of 30 pounds per day. Instead of the five fingers and toes that most bears have, pandas have a sixth digit on both front and hind paws. It is believed that this extra bone was arose for the purpose of more easily gripping bamboo.
Although Giant Pandas eat mostly bamboo, they are classified into the order Carnivora and also have a digestive system similar to carnivores. This tough digestive system is needed to break down the cellulose found in the bamboo. Occasionally they will partake in the delicacy of a rodent, but their low metabolism allows the pandas to live off of bamboo alone. While pandas are very docile creatures, they live in isolation and only associate with each other during mating season, between March and May. After mating, which is generally every two years, the female’s gestation period is 95 to 160 days. In captivity, twins are more likely to be born, due to artificial fertilization, whereas in the wild, only one young is expected. When the wee babes are born, they have all white fur and their pink skin shows through, giving them a naked, white-rat appearance. These cubs will only weigh three ounces initially and the protective mother will carry her baby as a cat does, in her mouth. After a few months and a lot of mother’s milk, the cubs will develop their black spots and begin walking on their own; a year later, the now 100 pound panda will say “jadios!” to its mother.
Once on its own, the panda must fend for itself, which involves evading jackals and snow leopards. Given that these great bears can easily defend themselves, pandas are not high on the list of prey in the food chain but rather have a larger concern; Earth’s worst enemy, the human. Along with the aforementioned human deforestation of the panda’s habitat, some hunters are heartless enough to kill the pandas for their fur coats. Both issues of hunting and deforestation could be eliminated if there was a greater awareness of the panda’s endangered title. If the panda’s original lowland area could be re-germinated with bamboo seeds, then the increased food supply would augment the number of pandas able to live in the wild. Fortunately, the nonprofit World Wide Fund for Nature has the Giant Panda as their mascot, raising awareness for the animals’ cause. WWF also collects money to continue managing protected environments congruent to the panda’s real home. Moreover, if every biology teacher would assign an endangered species paper to their classes, then cognizance of all threatened animals could be heightened and the world just maybe could be saved from the evil human race.