Giant Pandas now only live in Szechuan, Shensi, and Kansu provinces of western and central China. Their habitat usually ranges from 8,500 - 11,500 feet (2,590.8 - 3,505.2m) above sea level in cool damp bamboo forests. The name "panda" means "bamboo-eater." It came from Nepal, a country northeast of India.
Pandas are black and white. Their large head is white with 2 black ears, and 2 black circles around the eyes. Their body is black with a large patch of white on their back. Contrary to the soft fur of stuffed pandas, the fur coat of the Giant Panda isn't that soft. This outercoat is 2 inches (5cm) thick. Underneath is another layer that feels oily. These two layers keep out the cold during winter. They clean their fur once in awhile by licking and combing out the dirt by the claws. The four legs are also black. The forepaws have 6 claws. The sixth claw is an extra-long wrist bone that acts as a thumb for grabbing bamboo. The front paws are stronger than the hind legs. They stand with their hind legs to reach tall bamboo trees. Pandas live to an age of 20 in the wild. From the ground to the shoulder, pandas measure 27 - 32 inches (68.58 - 81.28cm) tall. They weigh between 220 - 330 pounds (99.7 - 149.5kg).
Giant Pandas are solitary animals. They only come together for mating. Females only are "in heat" or have the urge to mate twice a year. If they don't find a male the first time, which lasts about 10 days, they have to wait until the second time. When spring comes, females start to move around to scent-mark the areas they trot. The males pick up the females' scents and follow them. They mate. After they finish, the males and females go their separate ways. The gestation period is about 125 - 150 days. When summer comes, the females are ready to give birth. They can have 1 - 3 babies. The mothers, however, choose to rear only one young. They weigh around 5 ounces (142g) at birth. The cubs are born blind. It takes about 10 days for them to open their eyes. The fur coat begins to darken. Twenty-five days later, it looks sort of like the adult. The mothers provide their young with nutritious milk. They can begin walking by the 11th week. Six months later, the cubs' teeth start to grow. They can chew on tender bamboo shoots. At this stage they can climb trees. By their first year, the cubs go away from their mother for a few hours in search of food and explore new territories. By the second year, they are on their own.
Pandas are omnivores. They eat mostly bamboo leaves and stems, bulbs, grasses, and small animals. Since they are slow moving animals, the pandas rarely catch any small prey. Compared to other plant-eaters, pandas have short intestines. Most of the food they eat do not get digested. Therefore, to suffice their nutrition needs, pandas have to eat a lot. They spend 12 - 16 hours eating each day. Pandas have to consume between 25 - 40 pounds (10 - 18kg) of food every day.
Giant Pandas are endangered because of habitat loss and destruction of their food source. Since human population is ever growing, more land has to be clear in order to house all the people. The pandas' habitat is shrinking each day. The bamboo forest is growing smaller also. Since pandas' main food source is bamboo, they are dying out because of starvation. The Chinese government, in cooperation with World Wildlife Fund are devising plans to save these creatures. They are setting up more reserves so the pandas can live in their natural environment. It is estimated that this plan will cost them at least $50 million.