The black and white cat-foot, conventionally known as the Giant Panda, a representative of the endangered species and the logo of World Wildlife Fund is the rarest member of the bear family. The mountain ranges in the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu in south-central China shelter these magnificent creatures pertaining to the broadleaf and coniferous forests with a dense coppice of bamboo, essential for their survival.
These large bear cats are one of the world's most endangered species with about a thousand of them left in the wild including 140 in captivity, as per the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
The Giant Panda is almost the size of an American black bear and stands approximately two to three feet in height and stretches about four to six feet long. Females are generally undersized as compared to males barely reaching 220 pounds wherein the latter can weigh up to 250 pounds in the wild. They adorn a thick and woolly fur. The paws, ears, eye patches, legs, muzzle and shoulders are covered with glistening black and the rest with snowy white.
Pandas have large, flat molars and robust jaws, facilitating the crushing of tenacious bamboo. They have a substantial covering of mucus on the gut protecting them from shaft splinters. The forepaws have an extra thumb providing a tight grip on the bamboo shaft. Their lifespan protracts up to about 20 years in the wild and 30 in captivity.
They are competent enough to climb hollow trees and acquire shelter from fissures in the rocks. They do not secure continual dens and do not hibernate like other bears but move to alternative pedestals in search of balmy conditions like other subtropical mammals and rely on commodious memory than visual memory.
These bamboo-eating mammals are terrestrial and solitary varmints with defined territories and minimal tolerance for each other in their pronounced terrain. They spend most of their life feeding and gallivanting.
Giant pandas not only attain shelter from bamboo trees but feast on them too, making it their principal diet. They are classified as carnivorous mammals, because of which they have reduced ability to digest plant matter, leading to unsubstantial generation of nutrition and hence increased consumption. They eat for about fourteen hours a day and devour up to approximately 38 kilograms of bamboo.
Various parts of the plant are consumed accruing to the season. They munch on leaves in summer and autumn, winter brings in a diet of tough stems and spring accounts for tender, young bamboo. They nibble on bulbs, fruits, grass, insects, and even rodents sometimes, as an alternative to it. To avoid squandering of energy, they limit their social interaction and avert arduous sloping contours.
Giant Pandas attain maturity between 4-7 years of age, and can reproduce till the age of twenty. Females are capable of reproduction only for seventy-two hours a year since they ovulate only once during March and May - their breeding season. Calls and scent acts as the medium for drawing them to each other. After conceiving, the gestation period ranges between 95-160 days. The female can give birth to two cubs of which usually just one survives.
The newborn cubs are like small white rats, about six inches long and weigh somewhere around 3.7 pounds. They are born helpless and blind, are nursed and raised by the mother frivolously to an extent where the mother does not leave the cub unattended, and does not leave the den for just anything for the initial couple of days. They are nurtured and aided by the mother and stay with her till about the age of three after which they are left to strike out on their own.
China is the haven for this majestic yet endangered species - The Giant Panda, nurturing them with an apt surrounding and habitat essential for their viability. The economic and structural development of the country which is home to what is left of these creatures is posing a major problem for their survival; pertaining to the rapid depletion of their habitat to make room for the ever-growing population. Poaching and hunting adds on to the cause, with traps being laid for other animals, often entangling the pandas, resulting in their death. Apart from these manmade problems, nature does not help either. The reproductive growth of these giant bears is very low with females giving birth to just one or two cubs a year. As if this was not enough, the staple diet of these bears that is bamboo, grows at a very slow rate, with the mature plant dying after flowering and seeding. A coherent effort is demanded to save this imperial creature from becoming extinct.