Pandas, Pandas Everywhere!

by Courtney Gould Miller
June 04, 2014

What animal do you associate with China? Officially, it’s the dragon, but more and more pandas are taking over. China has relied on the pandas for everything from branding at the 2008 Olympics to international diplomacy.  These bamboo-loving bears have won the hearts of the Chinese and the world. Native to China’s southwest, pandas (大熊猫, daxiongmao or “big bear cat”) are endangered species that the Chinese protect fiercely. I visited the largest panda reserve in the world, Wolong Panda Reserve outside Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China to check these bears out for myself.

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The reserve is nearly 500,000 acres and houses 150 pandas, both the black-and-white giant panda and the lesser known red panda. The red pandas are smaller and look more like raccoons than pandas, but they are in the same species. Chinese lore suggests that these little guys can fly, but they didn’t show off this power when I observed them.

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Everyone knows that pandas eat bamboo, and a lot of it.  99% of a panda’s diet is bamboo, and to watch the bears tear into the woody stalks with ease is amazing. Strangely, pandas are carnivores naturally and have only adapted to their vegetarian diet.  Anthropologists say that the panda’s most distinctive features, its large size and round face, are adaptations to the bamboo diet that allow the panda to maintain the sedentary lifestyle needed to consume bamboo. If pandas had never transitioned to bamboo, they may not be as adorable as they are today!

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Want to visit the pandas? Learn more about the Wolong Reserve here and plan your trip to Chengdu! You can also see the pandas that the US received from China at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. in person or from your own computer on “The Giant Panda Cam.”

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