The giant panda is a beloved and instantly recognisable animal, despite the fact that a 2004 study showed that only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild. The bear has long been endangered, and has been the official logo of the World Wildlife Federation since 1961. Most of what humans know about the giant panda is thanks to observations and studies carried out on the few giant panda bears living in captivity in zoos.
Pandas have distinctive black rimmed eyes, ears and legs. The black and white bears have thick, heavy fur that keeps them warm through the rain and cold of their natural habitat. Pandas reach an average size of between 2 to 3 feet high when all fours, and they may be up to 6 feet long. Pandas weigh between 90.7 and 113kg, with males weighing more than females. They often stretch their hinds legs out and sit when they eat.
Though it once roamed lowland forests, the bear lives exclusively in a few mountain ranges throughout Southwest and Central China. The bears live in dense coniferous and broadleaved forests that are rich in bamboo plants, its primary food source. Giant pandas live at high elevations of between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, where there is heavy mist, rain and clouds.
The giant panda eats constantly, often for 12 hours a day. Though technically a carnivore, the bear is usually content to consume bamboo at a rate of 9.07 to 18.1kg. a day. The animal may also eat rodents or other small animals. Zoo pandas are fed bamboo, rice gruel and various fruits and vegetables.
Giant pandas only give birth to one or two cubs a year, and two cubs will rarely survive at the same time. The blind baby pandas grow white fur first before eventually developing black fur. The cub begins crawling around 3 months of age, and may stay with its mother for up to three years before venturing off on its own. The slow reproduction of the giant panda is a contributing factor to its endangered status.
As of 2005, more than 2.5 million acres of panda habitat were under protection by the Chinese government. Within these acres are more than 50 panda reserves. Despite efforts to protect the giant panda, habitat loss and poaching are still major issues. The rare bear is a major draw at zoos, where they are studied at great length. There are between 100 to 300 pandas in zoos, most of them in China.