Does this topic feel random to you? Something that came out of nowhere and without warning. Well…it is. Kind of. I’m not researching the topic for a book…yet. I haven’t written a book involving a Giant Panda…yet. But that’s not to say I won’t someday.
The thing is, I adore the Giant Panda. If a person could have a Giant Panda as a pet–you know, if they weren’t endangered, and if ever having a wild animal in your house was a good idea, and if owning one wouldn’t require me to plant a giant field of bamboo in my yard, I would be first in line to bring home a Giant Panda. They look so…squeezable. So soft and wonderful and sweet.
Back in my younger days, when Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were housed at the National Zoo in Washington DC, I developed a special affinity for the Giant Panda. I think most people in the US did at that time, but my connection was probably a bit different than most. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing had 5 cubs during their life in captivity, but none of them survived. Each time Ling-Ling found herself pregnant, so did I, and each time she lost a cub, I suffered a miscarriage. Even though I never saw her in person, I started feeling as if she was some kind of spirit sister.
And so, here are 5 things you might not know about Giant Pandas:
Fact #1: Giant Pandas are omnivores. Most of the time, we see them munching on bamboo, and that’s because bamboo makes up around 99% of their diet, but they do occasionally eat small animals and fish. Another good reason not to introduce one into your home. You don’t want to return from work someday and find your cat missing. Just sayin’… They need to eat around 30 pounds of bamboo every day in order to stay full. Apparently, bamboo doesn’t have a whole lot of nutritional value. They spent about 12 hours out of every 24 actively eating.
Fact #2: According to the WWF, the first Giant Panda ever came to the United States in 1936 when a cub was sent to a zoo in Chicago. It would be another 50 years before the US became home to another Giant Panda. News reports (and my memory) however, do the math a little differently. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were welcomed to the Smithsonian National Zoo in April 1972–which makes it just 36 years between Giant Panda gifts, not 50. I’ll admit, that serious lack of math skills, and the realization that nobody has fact-checked the WWF’s website, makes me wonder about some of the other information listed there, but that’s a subject for another day.
Fact #3: Giant Pandas live naturally only in remote mountainous regions in Central China where the atmosphere is cool and wet. They may climb as high as 13,000 feet to reach their food source.
Fact #4: Giant Pandas are solitary creatures. They don’t gather together and form family units. or get together for Sunday dinner. They have an advanced sense of smell which helps they to detect (and avoid) one another. It also helps the males detect a female nearby who is ready to mate in the spring, but knowing this makes it a little easier to understand why their numbers may have been slipping over the years. Two introverted Pandas, neither of which are particularly motivated to move from their own personal neck of the woods to make small-talk, and you could end up with a population issue. Females who become pregnant carry the babies for about 5 months, and then give birth to one or two cubs. Twin births should be encouraging, but the mother Panda can only care for one of the cubs, so… well… you know.
Fact #5: I’d love to offer you even more facts about these fascinating creatures, but we don’t know a whole lot about them. Most of what we (and by “we” I mean humans) know about Giant Pandas comes from studying zoo animals because those who live in the wild are so anti-social. They are elusive little things, which makes them difficult to find and track, There is some good news, though. While they once bordered on extinction (how sad would that be?) their numbers are up a bit. We have found better ways of tracking them in the wild.
And there you go! Five things you might not have known about the Giant Panda before today.