The giant panda's habitat is on the mountainous edge of the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, Central-West and Southwest China. Giant pandas mainly live Sichuan, with a few populations in Shaanxi and Gansu. See Giant Panda Maps.
Giant pandas live in rainy, mountainous bamboo forests 1,200 to 3,100 meters (4,000 to 10,000 feet) above sea level. An adult pair need about 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of bamboo to sustain them.
Giant panda habitat has been reduced by growth in China’s logging and farming practices, until logging was banned by the government in 1998.
Before extensive farming and deforestation in China, the giant panda lived in many lowland areas of China's interior.
Now over 50 nature reserves, covering over 10,000 sq km (4,000 sq mi), protect some of the remaining wild panda populations. However, the separation of habitat areas due to development means that pandas sometimes starve if the bamboo in their area has a bad year.
Protecting the panda's habitat concurrently preserves whole ecosystems from destruction and preserves the quality of water near the source of China’s largest and most important river system – the Yangtze.
Ecotourism in these reserves provides a livelihood for locals in poor mountain areas, while giving tourists a chance to see wild pandas in a controlled manner that leaves minimal impact on the environment.
Giant pandas are indigenous to China, and they're mainly distributed on the mountains in China's south-east and north-west, to be exact, in mountains spanning from Gansu Province to Shaanxi Province to Sichuan Province.
The habitat of the giant pandas covers over 20,000 square kilometers, which is home to about 1,600 pandas, and over 80% of them are distributed in Sichuan Province owing to its rich food and water resources.
Giant pandas like to live in humid and relatively high mountains: above 2,600 meters with large bamboo forests. Most of the wild population is distributed in the following mountains: Qinling Mountains, Minshan Mountains, Qionglai Mountains and Liangshan Mountains.
Qinling Mountains: stretching for 1,500 kilometers, the Qinling Mountains start at Gansu, spanning from Shaanxi to Hubei and Henan. Foping County in Hanzhong City, Shaanxi Province, to the south of the Qinling Mountains, is one of the pandas' living places. Foping National Reserve was set up to protect pandas and other rare species. The reserve is humid all year around, which is suitable for pandas to live in. 55% of the forest is bamboo which is giant pandas' only food. Many pandas live in this reserve, around one for an area of 2.5 kilometers. It is quite likely to come across a panda in the reserve.
Minshan Mountains: the Minshan Mountains span across Sichuan and Gansu Provinces in south-west and north-west China. The Minshan Mountains house the largest population of pandas in China, which accounts for 44% of all China's pandas. 27 giant panda reserves have been established in the mountains to protect them.
Qionglai Mountains: these mountains stretch across West Sichuan for 250 kilometers; the highest peak, Siguning Peak in Jiuzhaigou National Park, is 6,520 meters above sea level. Wolong National Reserve, Baoxing Feng Tong Zhai (宝兴蜂桶寨) and Labahe (喇叭河) Reserve have been set up to protect pandas and other rare species such as golden monkeys.
Wolong National Reserve, located to the south-west of Wenchuan County, which was the center of the May 12th Sichuan earthquake, is 130 kilometers away from Chengdu and is renowned as the home town of giant pandas.
Wolong National Reserve runs 52 kilometers in length, and has a width of 62 kilometers, which is one of the largest national reserves in China. There are high mountains and dense forests in the reserve. As early as 1980, a giant panda research center was set up in the reserve.
The reserve was dramatically damaged by the May 12th earthquake, and most of the pandas there have been removed to Bifengxia Valley Panda Center.
Ta-liang Mountains: these run across Liangshan Yi Ethnic Minority National Autonomous Region in the south-west of Sichuan Province. The mountains rise from 2,000 to 4,000 meters high.
The areas along the mountains are gathering communities of the Yi Nationality people.
The best place to see giant pandas is in Sichuan although you can see them in zoos in other cities, such as Beijing Zoo.
Bifeng Valley Panda Center and Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center are the two places to see pandas in Chengdu, Sichuan. Bifengxia has more pandas, and has a much better environment than the panda breeding center. Travelers can join a volunteer program to take care of the pandas for around 3 hours in Bifengxia. Travel with China Highlights to see or work as a giant panda keeper.