The giant panda is a born carnivore, yet this perplexing member of the bear family passes on the meat course almost entirely, choosing to persist on nature’s version of a celery diet: bamboo.
A highly endangered animal – less than 2,500 exist in the wild – the panda’s monotonous (nearly monovorous) diet is part of its undoing. The nutritional value of bamboo is negligible, exacerbated by the fact that the panda is genetically incapable of digesting cellulose. The result is that much of the panda’s extremely high-fibre diet passes right through it, providing only minimal calories to an animal that can grow up to 136kg (300lbs) in the wild.
So there the giant panda sits, for up to 16 hours every day, tearing and grinding away at piles of this nearly indigestible plant simply to eke out enough caloric energy to wake up the next day and do it all again. That peaceful, almost Zen-like demeanour has less to do with temperament than low blood sugar. The poor panda can hardly muster the energy to mate, and when he does successfully reproduce, the female will only raise one young at a time, even though the majority of births are twins. Such a slow reproductive rate makes the giant panda population highly susceptible to outside pressures, of which there are many.
Habitat loss is the panda’s greatest threat, then poaching. Because of their singular devotion to bamboo, pandas must live where the plant is abundant. Today, the only suitable habitat is limited to 20 isolated sections of mountain forest in south-western China, all of which have thankfully been protected by the Chinese government with help from conservationist organisations like the World Wildlife Fund.
So why does the panda always go for the vegetarian option. Watch our video below to find the answer…
Giant panda stats
- Species: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
- Type: Mammal
- Diet: Omnivore
- Average life span in the wild: 20 years
- Weight: Up to 136kg (300lbs)
- Size: Up to 2m (6ft) head to tail and 1m (3ft) at the shoulders
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