Giant pandas are famous worldwide for their unique black-and-white pattern and their absolutely adorable faces. Beyond that, however, there’s so much more to know about this vulnerable species!
Symbolized as the most cuddly and loveable bear of all species, the giant panda is not only an emblem for the World Wildlife Foundation but is considered China’s national treasure. This species’ habitat is threatened by infrastructure development and forest loss, causing them to be vulnerable to extinction. The panda, however, plays a crucial role within its ecosystem; known as an umbrella species, protecting pandas means protecting many other animals that live in their same environment. Recognizable globally, the giant panda equally acts as an economic attraction for many communities.
The Minshan and Qinling mountains of China are the only place in the world where the approximate 1800 remaining wild pandas can be found. Here, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) focused its efforts on panda conservation, protecting the panda environment, and establishing several panda reserves. Today, Southwestern China and more notably, the province of Sichuan, holds 67 panda reserves. In addition to the pandas left in the wild, there are currently 600 giant pandas living in captivity. These pandas are located in panda centers, national zoos, and wildlife parks across the world. Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Mexico, France, Belgium, Singapore, Spain, Austria, and the United States are all currently home to giant pandas living in Zoos. More specifically, you can see a giant panda up close and personal at Memphis Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, and The Smithsonian National Zoo in the United States!
A Look at Life in a Zoo for Giant Pandas
First and foremost, whether a giant panda lives in China’s wilderness or in a national zoo across the world, pandas spend the greater part of their time doing one of two things: Eating and sleeping. One of the panda’s main activities is eating bamboo, which consumes at least 12 hours of their day. Because eating takes so much time and energy, another 10-12 hours of time can be put toward sleeping. This species also enjoys both swimming and climbing. However, in between these periods, giant pandas in national zoos have great personalities and like many other bear species, are curious, playful, and love to wrestle - especially panda cubs. When living in a national zoo, they are often offered enrichment toys that are greatly appreciated such as piles of ice, water bottles, sawdust, different fabric materials, scents such as spices, and even simple puzzles.
All giant pandas, otherwise known as panda bears or just pandas and scientifically named Ailuropoda Melanoleuca, belong to China - no matter where they are located in the world, where they were born, or what zoo they live in. In fact, any zoo outside of China must lease the bears through an agreement with the Chinese government. This method of functioning ensures several factors concerning the international zoo pandas: The spread of awareness and engagement with wider audiences, raising money for preservation as well as helping them reproduce and safeguard their vulnerable numbers. The pandas must return to mainland China after an agreement of several years which also helps guarantee that pandas receive excellent treatment worldwide. Panda cubs born in international zoos equally belong to China and follow a Chinese tradition when it comes to being named. Instead of naming the panda at birth, cubs wait 3 months or 100 days before being given a name.
Should Panda Bears Remain in Captivity?
Giant panda bears are victims of deforestation, logging, and extreme population, causing their numbers to decrease drastically over time. Due to such environmental destruction, approximately 60% of China’s panda-filled mountain ranges are preserved. However, the area is still highly fragmented and only allows for a few continuous zones where the bears can live and roam freely. For this reason, their lives in captivity are quite necessary. Treated like kings and queens, pandas get the best of everything - top-notch enclosures, quality foods, and timely interactions. China’s main objective in “renting” or leasing out their pandas is to eventually return the captive pandas back into the wild, at a rate of one per year. By having pandas grow and reproduce in panda reserves, centers, and international zoos, China increases the panda population numbers all while allowing more time for the forests to grow and eventually welcome more bears.
What is black and white and loved all over? The giant panda, of course! But beyond their iconic colors and features, there is so much more to know about these adorable and loveable bears that have stolen the hearts of many worldwide.