The Giant Panda is a bear native to central-western and south western China. It is easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the Giant Panda’s diet is 99% bamboo. Other parts of its diet include honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, and bananas when available.
The Giant Panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China. Due to farming, deforestation, and other development, the Giant Panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived.
The Giant Panda has a black-and-white coat. Adults measure around 1.5 meters long and around 75 centimeters tall at the shoulder.
The Giant Panda has a body shape typical of bears. It has black fur on its ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, arms and shoulders. The rest of the animal’s coat is white. Although scientists do not know why these unusual bears are black and white, some
speculate that the bold coloring provides effective camouflage into its shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings. The Giant Panda’s thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat. The Giant Panda has large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo.
In the wild, the Giant Panda is a terrestrial animal and primarily spends its life roaming and feeding in the bamboo forests. Though generally alone, each adult has a defined territory and females are not tolerant of other females in their range. Pandas communicate through vocalization and scent marking such as clawing trees or spraying urine. The Giant Panda is able to climb and take shelter in hollow trees or rock crevices but does not establish permanent dens. For this reason, pandas do not hibernate, which is similar to other subtropical mammals, and will instead move to elevations with warmer temperatures. Pandas rely primarily on spatial memory rather than visual memory.
Social encounters occur primarily during the brief breeding season in which pandas in proximity to one another will gather. After mating, the male leaves the female alone to raise the cub.
There is no conclusive source for the origin of the Anglicized name “panda.” The closest candidate that has been accepted as the source originates in the Nepali word ponya, possibly referring to the adapted wrist bone. The Western world originally applied this name to the Red Panda. Until 1901, when it was erroneously stated that it was related to the Red Panda, the Giant Panda was known as “mottled bear” or “particolored bear.”
In most encyclopedic sources, the name “panda” or “common panda” originally referred to the lesser-known Red Panda, thus necessitated the inclusion of “giant” and “lesser/red” prefixes in front of the names. Even now, Encyclopædia Britannica still uses “giant panda” or “panda bear” for the bear and simply “panda” for the Ailuridae, despite the popular usage of the word “panda” today.
For many decades the precise taxonomic classification of the Giant Panda was under debate because it shares characteristics of both bears and raccoons. However, molecular studies suggest that the Giant Panda is a true bear.
Pandas have been kept in zoos as early as the Western Han Dynasty in China, where the writer Sima Xiangru notes that the panda was the most treasured animal in the emperor’s garden of exotic animals in Xi’an. Not until the 1950s were pandas again recorded to have been exhibited in China’s zoos.