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When we think of giant pandas, we think of lovely black and white bears. They are cute and have many fans all over the world. But do you really know pandas? The following are 13 fascinating facts to help you know more about them.
Lynne Buddin, a three-time traveler with China Highlights, is a panda lover who knows pandas first hand, and is the main contributor below...
Giant panda looks cuddly and cute when you search photos on the internet. But it's much bigger than you think.
An adult panda weight more than 45 kilos (100 pounds), and can be about 1.5 meters (5 feet) long!
Giant pandas can't stand and do kung fu moves like Po in Kungfu Panda. But they are good tree climbers. They can climb trees from 7 months old.
Giant pandas are bears, and like other bears, they can swim.
Pandas are born looking like baby badgers — fur-less, pink, and blind. The iconic black and white colour comes later, after about three weeks.
Not all giant pandas are black and white! A few are brown and white, but these are very rare.
"The looks of a teddy bear" are what makes pandas so popular. Pandas appeal to our "cuteness receptors" because they have large, front-facing eyes, and are extremely furry, so we therefore think of them as cuddly and cute.
This was the subject of a recent BBC1 study by scientist Gordon Buchanan, and this is why almost all of us like pandas.
As about all a panda does all day is eat and sleep, you are best to get up early for a visit to a panda park, so you see them when they are active.
One reason for pandas being rare is that breeding is not high on their list of priorities. And with only a one-day window a year for a female to conceive naturally, it is hardly surprising that pandas are an endangered species.
A 45-kilo adult (and pandas can reach 150 kg in captivity) spends as long as 14 hours eating. And it can eat 12 to 38 kilos of bamboo a day.
Pandas' favorite food is bamboo shoots. If you do the Panda Keeper Tour, which I can personally recommend, you too can eat bamboo, although what you eat will be cooked for you first. (Read more about Panda Keeper Tour below.)
Pandas can poop as much as 28 kilos/day. In the past the undigested bamboo pieces in the poop were made into picture frames and bookmarks — no, apparently they did not smell!
Panda's poop points in their direction of travel, so they can be easily tracked in the wild. Unfortunately, historically this led to them being more endangered, but now it aids researchers.
Since giant predators like sabre-tooth tigers are no longer around, pandas didn't need to be as fast, and turned into vegetarian specialists to avoid becoming extinct themselves.
We all know them as eating only bamboo, but they like some fruit too, and can eat meat. One panda park we visited had a photo of a panda devouring a vulture.
Although they still have sharp teeth and the digestive tract of carnivores, they don't have the energy to chase anything, so their prey would virtually have to land in their lap, or be injured and too slow to escape.
Pandas are usually born in August, because the panda's mating months are March to May and gestation is 3 to 5 months.
Females mainly produce two offspring, but only the stronger one survives in the wild. In the research bases in Chengdu, the other twin is hand-reared, and swapped regularly with the mother so she can raise two cubs each pregnancy. Some of the money you pay in entrance fees funds this successful project.
Fossils of pandas have been dated between 1 and 2 million years old. Once pandas were widely distributed across the whole of China. Now they only live in the wild in remote areas of China's Tibetan foothills.
Pandas have a 6th "digit" on the heels of their fore-paws. With their extra "thumbs" they can manoeuvre the bamboo into fat cigar shapes for efficient eating.
"Pandas are said to have a predilection for copper and iron. They really seem to enjoy licking every scrap of food from their metal bowls, even turning the bowl in their two dexterous paws. An ancient reputation as a licker and eater of copper and iron came from a liking for dishes or cooking pots in dwellings of Chinese peasants."
— from "The Giant Panda" by David Taylor, an interesting source if you want to know more.
Imagine you were living in a remote mountain dwelling, and the first time you see a giant panda, with claws and teeth as big as your fingers, is when it has come to your house to eat... You'd probably be terrified and let it lick your pots!
Another strange behaviour, but with a modern twist, we witnessed, is them enjoying "fruit lollipops" — fruit frozen in a metal dish of water to cool them down in the heat of summer in Chengdu.
Chi Chi the giant panda lived in London Zoo from 1958 to 1972. She was bought for £12,000 (now pandas are rented for up to a million dollars a year!). I remember going to see this panda as a child. That's probably when my love for them started. That, and a panda teddy that was as big as me!
Once the most famous panda was the one on the WWF logo (still World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada, or World Wide Fund for Nature elsewhere), which you may not know was designed after Chi Chi, the only panda in the West in 1966, when the logo was founded.
All giant panda cubs born in captivity to foreign zoos, when lent out, are the property of the Chinese Government and have to be returned.
If you want to see China's lovely giant pandas, we can tailor-make a tour for you to see pandas according to your particular requirements.
See our most popular panda itineraries below for inspiration: