©Getty Images

©Getty Images

General facts about all bears:

  • Bears are mammals.                                     
  • Bears are found in many habitats in different countries.
  • Bears all have a large body with strong legs and a short tail. They have a snout rather like a dog's snout. They have thick fur. Their paws have five claws that do not pull back like a cat's claws do.
  • Bears generally live alone, except when a mother is raising cubs.
  • There are eight different kinds of bear.

Appearance

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

The giant panda is a black and white bear with round head, small black ears and white face. There is a patch of black fur around each eye. Pandas have short tails. They walk on all fours and can climb trees, often doing so to find a place to sleep.

An adult giant panda is about 150 centimetres long and weighs about 90 kilograms, although the biggest one ever weighed was 180 kilograms.

Distribution and Habitat

Bamboo forest, China ©Getty Images

Bamboo forest, China ©Getty Images

(where they are found)

Giant pandas are endemic to China, which means they are found nowhere else. They live in bamboo forests in the mountains of western China.  The forests are very thick and the pandas are generally hidden from view, so it has been hard for scientists to learn about them. This lack of knowledge adds to the difficulty of saving the pandas.  

Once they were found throughout China, but the bamboo forests in eastern China have been cut down for farming. This has made the forest areas into 'islands', making it impossible for the bears to roam widely and difficult to meet each other in order to mate.

Diet

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

About 99% of the giant panda's food is bamboo, though it also eats grass, roots, plants and even meat.  Bamboo is actually a type of grass that grows as tall as trees. Although there are hundreds of kinds of bamboo, the giant panda eats only 4 or 5 kinds. It is estimated that a giant panda can chew more than 3,500 stalks or leaves, or about 20-22 kilograms, of bamboo a day.   Bamboo is not very nutritious, so the Giant Panda spends about 12-14 hours a day feeding to get enough nutrition.  

The front paws of the Giant Panda are specially adapted to help it hold bamboo. There is a bone on each palm that looks a bit like a thumb. The panda's five fingers wrap around the bamboo stalk, and the 'thumb' moves forward to jam against the bamboo so that it is firmly held. The very large teeth, strong jaws and huge cheek muscles help crush the tough bamboo.

Giant panda with a one month old cub. ©Getty Images

Giant panda with a one month old cub. ©Getty Images

Life Cycle

Baby pandas are very small when they are born, weighing about 120 grams. This is very tiny in proportion to the size of the mother.  The mother holds the new baby in a similar way to the way a human does, cradling it in her arms.

The baby panda's eyes open after about 40 days.  

 

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

At one month old the black markings can be seen on their pink skin.  At three months old the young pandas are furry, black and white miniatures of their parents. They crawl when they are about 3-4 months old.  At 7 months, a young panda weighs about 9 kilograms, runs and climbs trees, and has started eating bamboo. At about 18 months, it weighs about 55 kilograms, and will soon leave its mother.

Conservation Status and Threats

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

Giant pandas are classified as Endangered because the bamboo forests are being cleared for farming.  Only small clumps of forest make it difficult for the solitary giant pandas to meet and breed during the short time of their breeding season.

 Different types of bamboo die off every 40 to 100 years and because of the clearing, there are fewer types of bamboo left for pandas to eat during those times.  Pandas often starve when the bamboo dies off.

In the past they were hunted for their fur or were trained as performing circus animals.

Giant pandas are now protected by law.  In China, research and breeding centres have been set up and are trying to breed them to increase their numbers. This is a very slow and difficult process, partly because female giant pandas do not easily become pregnant. 

Panda cub in a tree. ©Getty Images

Panda cub in a tree. ©Getty Images

Read more about giant pandas

http://www.defenders.org/panda/basic-facts

Watch a video of giant pandas in a breeding and research centre in Wolong, Sichuan:

http://video.nationalgeographic.com.au/video/exploreorg/giant-panda-reserve-eorg

Read the kidcyber pages about the other bear species:

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

There is another animal called panda, and although it is not a bear,  it is a distant relative of the giant panda.

Read the kidcyber page about the red panda