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The giant panda is found in mountainous areas in China. They mainly live on the east side of the Tibetan Plateau, distributed over approximately 67 Chinese nature reserves. They have black patches around the eyes, making the eyes look unusually big. Another, less conspicuous, characteristic is the existence of a sixth finger: the panda has six fingers on the forelimbs instead of five. The fur consists of thin, long hairs. The main colour is yellow-white, the legs are black and so are the patches around the eyes, the ears and a narrow strip across the shoulders.

Despite the fact that their ancestors were carnivores, the giant panda is primarily vegetarian. The giant panda eats mainly bamboo, although at times they will also eat some meat. Strangely enough, the digestive system of the giant panda is not adapted to the consumption of bamboo and other plant products. The panda therefore has to eat large amounts very often and feeds as often as 10 to 15 times a day and for a period of 10 to 12 hours a day.

Rumour has it that the giant panda goes into hibernation, but there is no proof to sustain this.

Social behaviour
A giant panda living in the wild spends the day primarily resting, looking for food and feeding. When a panda feels threatened it will seek refuge in a tree. They are usually ground dwellers. The giant panda is generally solitary, except during mating season when they look for a mate. Recent research however indicates that some pandas in larger areas live in small groups that are in contact with each other, even outside of mating season. Pandas look very cute, but are just as dangerous as any other wild animal. There are reports of pandas attacking humans out of irritation.

In 2016 the establishment of some stable populations has led to a change in IUCN-status from ‘Endangered‘ to ‘Vulnerable’. However, the giant panda is still under threat. There are a number of nature reserves for pandas in China and zoos are trying to breed pandas, however this has proven to be extremely difficult. Female pandas are particularly fussy when selecting a male. It is estimated that approximately 1,865 pandas still live in the wild. Researchers are currently trying to maintain the panda population through special breeding programs, which use artificial insemination. Unfortunately, since the fertile period of the females is extremely short, only very few young are born. The panda population in the wild is therefore unlikely to grow very quickly.

Factsheet Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)