The giant panda only exists at present in six small areas located in inland China. The habitat, suitable for the bamboo on which it survives, is a cold, damp coniferous forest. The elevation ranges from 1,200 to 3,400 meters high. In most of the areas in which they still roam wild, they must compete with farmers who farm the river valleys and the lower slopes of the mountains. It is estimated that there are somewhere around 700 and 1,000 giant pandas still alive in the wild. Because of their reliance on bamboo as their primary food, they will remain in significant danger unless their present habitat is expanded. The differing varieties of bamboo go through periodic die-offs as part of their renewal cycle. Without the ability to move to new areas which have not been affected, starvation and death will certainly occur for the giant panda. Such die-offs of the bamboo also put the giant pandas in more direct contact with farmers and poachers as the bears try to find new areas in which to feed.
Pandas have few natural enemies other than man, so the life-span of giant pandas in the wild is thought to be twenty-five years or more.
Giant pandas have forepaws which are extremely flexible. Evolution has given them an enlarged wrist bone that works in the manner of an opposable thumb. This highly functional adaptation allows the giant panda to manipulate their primary food source, bamboo stems and leaves, with precision. The hind feet of the giant panda lack the heel pad found in the other seven bear species. Giant pandas have a massive head, heavy body, short tail, rounded ears and plantigrade feet (when both heel and toe make contact with the ground when walking in a manner similar to humans).
Although giant pandas will eat a large variety of plants, the overwhelming bulk of their diet, consists of bamboo leaves, stems and shoots. Over fifteen different varieties of bamboo grow within the region. Because of the giant pandas still quite inefficient...
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