The giant panda is easily recognisable with its black and white patches of fur. It is closely related to both bears and raccoons and is native to the bamboo forests in the mountainous regions of the Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces in southwestern China. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the giant panda is among the world's most threatened animals because as of 2010, there are less than 2,500 mature pandas in the wild. Although many organisations and the Chinese government have worked to conserve pandas by protecting their habitat and establishing preserves, the threat of panda extinction continues. Many factors, both natural and man-made, affect the lives of giant pandas.
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Climate and Habitat
Giant pandas live in the mountainous regions of southwestern China. The species does not make permanent dens, which means that pandas often take temporary shelter in suitable rocks or trees. The lack of a permanent structure means that pandas are sometimes vulnerable to cold temperatures if adequate shelter cannot be found. Giant pandas also do not hibernate, moving to lower elevations during periods of cool weather. They live mainly on the ground. The fact that pandas are mobile during cool weather and live primarily on the ground makes them vulnerable to animal predators looking for food.
Pandas are vulnerable to natural disasters as well as other factors. Floods, fires and earthquakes can affect the habitats of these animals. However, it is sometimes difficult to determine which disasters are actually caused by humans. Although fires can be caused by lightning, they can also be caused by humans. Flooding may occur naturally, but in China it is often the result of dammed and rerouted rivers.
Pandas have a solitary nature, which means they do not benefit from safety or strength in numbers. They are often required to defend themselves alone instead of in groups like other species. This makes them vulnerable to predators; it also means that injured animals are left to fend for themselves.
Giant pandas have extreme dietary requirements that make them vulnerable to extinction. The diet of a giant panda is 99 per cent bamboo, which grows only in very specific areas. Any diseases that affect bamboo can also affect pandas since they rely almost exclusively on it for a source of nutrition. Bamboo also is a low-energy food, which means that pandas do not have a lot of extra calories available for optimum health. Additionally, the life cycle of bamboo can affect panda numbers. Bamboo is typically dormant before it regenerates, which means that a lack of bamboo can cause pandas to starve. Although environmental stresses caused by humans can lead to longer periods of bamboo dormancy, the fact that bamboo is not always prevalent strongly affects the life cycle of pandas as well.
Slow Reproduction Rates
Although pandas are solitary, males seek out females during the two-month breeding season. Female pandas are fertile for only 2 to 3 days per year, which makes it difficult for fertilisation to occur. Additionally, female pandas typically rear only seven or fewer cubs in their life cycles, which makes for lower populations. Although litters of two or three cubs are common, usually only one cub survives. Female pandas have little energy for gestation and lactation because of their bamboo-rich diets, which means that panda cubs are very small and vulnerable during their first year.
According to an article in the journal "EcoHealth," giant pandas are also threatened by parasitic disease. The disease is due to an organism called visceral larval migrans, or VLM. The disease can damage or overburden organs and cause metabolic disorders.
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