Habitants of bamboo forests in the mountains of south-central China, the Giant Panda with its captivating appearance, characterized by a striking coat of black and white, along with a bulky body and round face, are recognized as one of the most beloved animals in the world. Also known as Panda Bear or simply Panda, they are mammals with a body typical of bears, with large, black fur around its eyes, over the ears, muzzle, shoulders, and legs, while the rest of their body is white. Their thick hair keeps them warm in the cool, wet bamboo forests in the high altitude mountain zones.
Adult male giant pandas may attain 6 feet (1`8 m) in length and weigh more than 120 kg, while the females are smaller than their male counterparts. Its tail, measuring 4 to 6 inches, is the second-longest in the bear family, just behind the sloth bears. In the course of evolution, it attained an unusual anatomical characteristic in its enlarged wrist bones, capable to function as a thumb and helps the pandas to hold bamboo while they munch on it with their strong molar teeth. They have a waddling gait, as their paws point inward. They can easily stand on their hind legs and often seen rolling, somersaulting, and dust bathing. It may sound strange, but they are also frequently seen eating in a relaxed sitting posture, with their hind legs stretched out before them. Like the bears, they can also readily ascend the trees. Their usual life span is around 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
The giant panda has lived in bamboo forests for millions of years, and leaves, shoots, and stems of bamboo make up almost their entire diet. It has an insatiable appetite for bamboo shoots and needs to consume 10 to 20 kg of bamboo each day to get all its nutrients, spends 10 to 16 hours a day foraging and eating, and relieves itself dozens of times a day. However, as they belong to the order of Carnivora, the Giant pandas also occasionally eat birds, rodents, or carrion. Nevertheless, the limited energy input imposed on it by its diet has affected the panda's behavior, and apart from the time spent on eating, the rest of its time is spent mostly sleeping and resting.
The giant panda is a solitary animal and confines its activities to a range of about 4 to 6 square km, which often overlap substantially. However, a female is not tolerant of other females in her range. Using a large scent gland located just below the tail, it leaves a personal odor for other pandas. While the male uses its scent to identify their area, the females primarily use it for signaling estrus, a state or period of heightened sexual arousal and activity. They become sexually mature between the ages of four and eight and may continue to reproduce until age 20. The mating season is between March and May, during the estrus of the female that lasts for two or three days and occurs only once a year.
Primarily, the males are attracted by the scent left by the female and locate her ultimately by vocalization. While the number of male assemblages may vary from more than one to five, as recorded, the males may become highly aggressive as they compete for the opportunity to mate. During the copulation, the female crouches in a head-down position while the male mounts her from behind for penetration. The copulation time is rather short, ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes. However, the male often mounts on the female repeatedly to ensure successful fertilization.
Between 95 and 160 days of becoming pregnant, the female panda gives birth to a cub or two, though only one survives as the mother cannot care for more than one at a time. It is thought that the mother panda is unable to produce enough milk for two cubs since she does not store fat and selects the stronger of the cubs while the weaker is left unattended, destined to die due to starvation. A newborn giant panda cub is a completely helpless creature, and it takes considerable effort on the part of the mother to raise it. At that stage it is blind and hairless, only able to suckle and vocalize, and completely dependent on its mother for warmth, nourishment, positioning at the breast, and stimulating the passage of wastes.
The pinkish cub weighs only around 120 gm at birth, cannot open the eyes before 6 to 8 weeks, and cannot crawl until it reaches three months of age. For the first two to three weeks of its life, the mother panda holds her baby almost like a human mother, by using her forepaws and thumb-like wrist bones to cuddle the baby against herself. While the eyes of the cub begin to open at about 45 days, the first wobbly steps are taken at 75–80 days. The cub nurses from its mother's breast six to 14 times a day for up to 30 minutes at a time till it starts to eat small quantities of bamboo after six months. Nevertheless, the mother’s milk remains its primary source of food for most of the first year. A cub quickly gains weight to reach around 45 kg within the first year and live with the mothers until it is 18 months to two years old.
Since a wild female giant panda can produce a young only every other year, at her best, it is estimated that she may successfully raise only five to eight cubs in her lifetime, and its naturally slow breeding rate cannot keep pace with the quick loss of its population from illegal hunting, habitat loss and other human-related causes of mortality. Fortunately, the improved conservation efforts and relatively better survey methods indicate a recent increase in the wild panda population. Today, hundreds of more pandas live in breeding centres and zoos, where they are always among the most popular attractions