How many pandas live in the wild?
The latest census in 2014 found that there were 1,864 giant pandas alive in the wild.
While still very low, this represents a real success story, with numbers increasing from around 1,000 in the late 1970s.In the past decade, giant panda numbers have risen by 17 percent.
Habitat: where do they live?
Most of the remaining wild pandas live in the Minshan and Qinling mountains. And it is here that WWF has focussed its giant panda conservation work, supporting the Chinese government's efforts to conserve the species.Since habitat loss is the most serious threat to the panda, establishing new reserves and extending existing ones are crucial to its survival.
After a significant increase in recent years, China now boasts a network of 67 panda reserves, which safeguard more than 66% of the giant pandas in the wild and almost 54% of their existing habitat.
The Chinese government, in partnership with WWF, has also developed bamboo corridors to link isolated pockets of forest, allowing the pandas within them to move to new areas, find more food and meet more potential breeding mates.
The mountains form a natural barrier between the densely populated southern and eastern provinces of China and the great wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau, the highest and largest in the world.
Spreading through the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, the Minshan mountains run along the north of the Great Sichuan plain and to the east of the Tibetan Plateau, and form part of one of the most important watersheds in China.
They are also home to hundreds of giant pandas with PingWu county boasting the highest density of wild pandas in the world.
But the Minshan mountains' magnificent forests are a critical habitat not only for giant pandas but also for a wealth of other species, including the dwarf blue sheep and beautiful multi-coloured pheasants.
The mountains are part of China's most critical watershed, channeling rainwater into both of the country's great rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow.
Located in Shaanxi Province, the Qinling mountains form a natural barrier between northern and southern China, protecting the south from the cold northern weather.
And the warm rains on the southern slopes support a rich variety of plants and animals. Along with a few hundred pandas, the mountains are also home to other endangered species, including the golden monkey, takin and crested ibis.
Natural enemies and defences
Giant pandas face very few predators
A fully grown panda is far too formidable a foe for most predators, but some animals can prey on cubs.
Potential predators include jackals, snow leopards and yellow-throated martens, all of which are capable of killing and eating panda cubs.
Indeed, the 2008 animated blockbuster Kung Fu Panda tells the story of Po, a panda who is an apprentice noodle-maker and kung-fu fanatic, and whose greatest enemy is Tai Lung: a fierce kung-fu fighting snow leopard.
In real life, snow leopards, which are also endangered, share some of the same habitats as the black and white bears and pose a threat to young pandas.
Can pandas fight back?
Giant pandas are solitary and peaceful animals, which will usually avoid confrontation, but if escape is impossible, they will certainly fight back.
And as cuddly as they may look, pandas can protect themselves as well as most other bears by using their physical strength, and powerful jaws and teeth.
And while their large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles are designed for crushing bamboo, they can deliver a very nasty bite.
In addition, giant panda are excellent climbers, with cubs able to clamber up trees when they are just 6 months old.
They can also swim and, unlike most other bears, do not hibernate for months at time during winter.
With all these attributes in their arsenal, fully grown giant pandas can defend themselves against most predators.
So why are pandas so endangered?
The biggest threats to pandas are not their age-old enemies in the wild, but every day human actions. Predators might take the odd cub but humans are the greatest threat to pandas.
In particular, pandas are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and by people hunting other animals and harvesting plants in the forests
That's the bad news.The good news is that humans are also the greatest hope for pandas because we can do something about it.
No matter where you live, if we all treat our planet better, we can guarantee a brighter future for the giant pandas, the bamboo forests they depend on, and even for ourselves.
What do they eat?
Pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively. The average Giant Panda spends 10 to 16 hours foraging and eats as much as 20 to 30 pounds of bamboo shoots per day. Although Pandas eat bamboo, they have the digestive system of a carnivore. They do not have the ability to easily digest cellulose and bamboo provides little energy or protein, accounting for their sluggish speed.
A panda's daily diet consists almost entirely of the leaves, stems and shoots of various bamboo species.
Bamboo contains very little nutritional value so pandas must eat 12-38kg every day to meet their energy needs.
But they do branch out, with about 1% of their diet comprising other plants and even meat. While they are almost entirely vegetarian, pandas will sometimes hunt for pikas and other small rodents.
Indeed, as members of the bear family, giant pandas possess the digestive system of a carnivore, although they have evolved to depend almost entirely on bamboo.
This reliance on bamboo leaves them vulnerable to any loss of their habitat – currently the major threat to their survival.
How big, tall and heavy are pandas?
Pandas can grow up to 1.5m long and weigh as much as 150kg.
Giant pandas have a distinctive black and white coat, with black fur around their eyes and on their ears, muzzle, legs and shoulders. Their thick, wooly coat helps to keep them warm in their cool mountain homes.
Adult pandas are about 150cm from nose to rump, with a 10-15cm tail. And they can grow up to 90cm tall at the shoulder.
An adult panda can weigh up to 150kg, with males 10% larger and 20% heavier than females.
They have two unique physical features that help them to hold, crush and eat bamboo:
Broad, flat molar teeth
Enlarged wrist bone that functions as an opposable thumb.
Pandas are mistakenly believed to be poor breeders due to the disappointing reproductive performance of captive animals.
But long-term studies have shown that wild panda populations can have reproductive rates comparable to some American black bear populations, which are thriving.
Giant pandas reach sexual maturity at 5.5 to 6.5 years.
A female can mate with several males, who compete over her.
A male will seek out different females who are on heat.
The mating season is in spring between March and May.
Males and females usually associate for no more than 2-4 days.
Gestation takes from 95-160 days.
Pandas normally give birth to single young
Twins seem to be born more frequently in captivity, when artificial insemination is used.
The reproductive rate is about 1 cub every 2 years.
A newborn panda cub weighs just 90-130 g.
A cub is just 1/900th the size of its mother - one of the smallest newborn mammals relative to its mother's size.
Pandas are dependent on their mothers for the first few months of their lives and are fully weaned at 8 to 9 months.
Most pandas leave their mothers when she becomes pregnant again, usually at about 18 months.
A panda's average life span in the wild is 14-20 years.
But they can live up to 30 years in captivity.
Why save the giant panda?
In terms of the Giant Panda, evidence for allowing them to become extinct seems, at first glance, to be reasonable: there aren’t many left; they have problems breeding; their habitat and almost singular food source, bamboo, is under constant attack by human incursion or ravaged by natural disasters like the earthquake of 2008; they have digestive problems that lead to poor health and sometimes death; and because they are secretive and live in remote and rugged areas, on the ground research is difficult and the volume of what we really know about the Giant Panda doesn’t have many pages. That, however, seems to be changing as more and more scientific studies are published yielding new and helpful information.
The panda’s habitat is also important for the livelihoods of local communities, who use it for food, income, fuel for cooking and heating, and medicine. And for people across the country.The panda's mountains form the watersheds for both the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which are the economic heart of China – home to hundreds of millions of people. Economic benefits derived from these critical basins include tourism, subsistence fisheries and agriculture, transport, hydropower and water resources.So by protecting pandas, we’re helping to safeguard the broader environment, which so many people and animals depend on.Pandas themselves are also economically and culturally valuable. They are the national symbol of China and generate significant economic benefits for local communities through ecotourism and other activities.
How can we help save the panda?
While the panda's future remains precarious, its numbers are slowly increasing in the wild. There are now more panda reserves than ever before and more projects to help people sustainably coexist with them.