Today, rather than discussing a travel destination, I will talk about a popular animal within a destination. The giant panda, which the Chinese refer to as “daxiongmao,” or large bear cat, can weigh up to 220 pounds.
Pandas inhabit several few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but can also be found in the southwestern regions of the country. Pandas once lived in lowland areas, but due to modern farming, forest clearing, and other development they are now restricted to the mountains.
Although it is a carnivore, a panda’s diet consists of over 99% bamboo. Since the bamboo diet isn’t very nutritious, pandas spends more than 14 hours a day eating. Wild pandas will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or musk deer fawns, birds, rodents or carrion.
The World’s Conservation Union (IUCN) has placed the giant panda on the endangered species list, as they are threatened by habitat loss, poaching and a very low birthrate. Wildlife experts are unsure of exactly how many remain living in the wild, but the number is estimated to be from 1,590 to as high as 3,000. Some reports have also shown that the number of pandas in the wild is on the rise.
The giant panda is among the world’s most adored and protected rare animals. Lots of time, money and energy has been spent on conservation. In 2006, there were 40 panda reserves in China, and in 2012 a global nonprofit named Earthwatch Institute launched a program which allows volunteers to work with pandas in captivity in an effort to help them adapt to life in the wild. If successful, the panda may go on to breed, and live longer and healthier lives in the wild where they belong.