In the remote, mountainous regions of central China lives the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). A big eater, the average panda spends up to 14 hours a day munching on bamboo. Bamboo has very little nutritional value, so a panda needs to eat about 13 kilograms (28 pounds) of it each day to get the energy it needs.
Pandas, the most primitive living member of the bear family, have lived in these bamboo forests for millions of years. Now the solitary creatures are one of the rarest bear species in the world.
Giant pandas have developed unique adaptations for their cold, wet habitat and their penchant for bamboo. Their thick, black-and-white fur coats keep them warm. To crush tough bamboo, they have strong jaws and large, flat molar teeth. To pluck and hold bamboo, they have elongated wrist bones that work much like thumbs.
Sometimes pandas eat rodents and birds. As members of the bear family, they have the digestive system of a carnivore but have evolved to be almost complete herbivores.
Thanks to improved conservation strategies, scientists are finding that the wild panda population is slowly increasing. In fact, in 2016 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the giant panda’s conservation status from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” a notable improvement.
Land development and logging are still shrinking the pandas’ habitat, though. What remains is highly fragmented, which makes it difficult for pandas to find a mate during breeding season. To address this, conservationists are creating “corridors” of bamboo forests that connect isolated habitats.
Saving the panda helps preserve the broader environment that other plants and animals depend on for survival, including endangered species such as the golden snub-nosed monkey and the Asian crested ibis. Protection also preserves areas important to local communities that depend on the forests for food, income, cooking and heating fuel, and medicine.
a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.
type of huge, woody grass.
organism that eats meat.
management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.
hallway, or connecting passage of land.
series of organs and glands responsible for the ingestion, digestion, and absorption of food. Also called the alimentary canal.
organism threatened with extinction.
breaking up of large habitats into smaller, isolated chunks. Fragmentation is one of the main forms of habitat destruction.
environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.
organism that eats mainly plants and other producers.
process by which living organisms obtain food or nutrients, and use it for growth.
simple or crude.
level of conservation between "near threatened" and "endangered." Vulnerable is the lowest of the "threatened" categories.