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Giant Pandas
(The endangered bear)

:CONTENTS:
 
 
Giant Pandas: The Bamboo Bear
The Body of the Panda
The Pandas Dwindling Range and Numbers
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
Giant Pandas: The Bamboo Bear
 
 
 
    These deadpan clowns are China's national treasure and have become the World Wildlife Funds (WWF) symbol of conservation.  Around the world, children of all ages adore millions f stuffed and inflatable toys made in this animals image.  However, although the panda is a familiar figure to nearly everyone, only recently have unlocked the secrets of this shy animals life in the wild.
 
 
 
The Body of the Panda
The giant panda (Ailuroda melanoleauca) resembles other bears in its general shape and body proportions.  It's basic color is white with black eye patches, ears, legs, feet, chest, and shoulders.  Sometimes the very tip of its 5-inch (13 cm) long tail is also black.  In the forest, this black-and-white pattern makes the animal very conspicuous at close range, but on snow it practically vanishes.  (Early in 1986, a light-brown color phase of the giant panda was discovered.) Panda fur is thick, with coarse outer hairs and extremely dense and woolly under fur that becomes somewhat sparse on the belly.  Cubs are as soft to the touch as kittens.
  Adult pandas range between 5.25 and 6 feet (160 to 180 cm) in length and may attain weights of well over 200 pounds (91 kg).  Males ad females are identically marked, but adult males usually weigh from 10 to 20 percent more than females.  The Chinese name for the giant panda is xiongmao, or "giant cat bear," the pupils of the pandas eyes are catlike vertical slits.  All other have round pupils.
  A pandas forepaws are very flexible and are equipped with a peculiar sixth digit works something like as opposable thumb.  The evolution of this "thumb" has been subject of debate for over 100 years.  In reality, the thumb is only an enlarged wrist bone (the radial sesamoid) that is capable of independent movement.  It is very important to the panda, however, because it allows it to handle bamboo stems and leaves (the pandas major food) with great precision and dexterity.  The pandas hind feet lack the heel pad found on other bears.  Their clumsy looking, pigeon toed walk is misleading, because pandas are able to move remarkable ease and silence through the densest forest and roughest terrain.
  Because pandas must chew tough bamboo stalks for nourishment, they have massive skulls equipped  with large, crushing molars.  Powerful muscles attached to a prominent sagittal crest (a ridge of bone on top of the skull) move the jaws.  For protection from sharp bamboo splinters, the esophagus has a tough, horny lining and the stomach is almost gizzard like in its thick-walled, muscular construction.  The rest  of the digestive system, very similar to that of a typical carnivore, is inefficient in its handling and digestion of bamboo.  Consequently, the animal must consume up to 45 pounds (20 kg) of the plant a day to survive.
 
 
 
 
The Pandas Dwindling Range and Numbers
Hunting and habitat destruction have eliminated pandas from most of their former range.  Today, they exist only in six small areas along the eastern rim of the Tibetan Plateau, in a cold, damp coniferous forest between 4,000 and 11,000 feet (1,200 to 3,400 m) high.  The bamboo that the pandas depend on for food is found mostly within this narrow band.  However, footprints and droppings have been recorded as high as 13,500 feet (4,040 m).  Although the pandas total range encompasses some 11,300 square miles (29,500 sq. km), represents actual panda habitat.  More than half the pandas remaining in the wild life in a chain of twelve reserves established by the Chinese.  According to a recent census conducted by China's Ministry of forestry and the World Wildlife Fund, the wild panda population has declined by about 200 in the last decade, to an estimated 700.  Several have disappeared altogether, and others have been reduced to fewer than 20 pandas, which is considered too small to remain viable.  Another 120 pandas or so survive in zoos, mostly in China.
 
 
 
 

by: John Froilan Reyes