(Last updated on: 19/04/2021)
Learning about the fascinating giant panda facts is one of the best ways to get excited about a trip to China, home to these magnificent creatures. I learned a lot of giant panda facts on my trip to Chengdu with kids, but you don’t have to fly all the way to China to learn more- I have it covered below!
Here are the most interesting giant panda facts…
1. Giant pandas can climb very early on
Giant panda cubs are actually extremely brave – they start learning to climb at just 5 months old. They tend to practise by climbing all over their mum, which is very cute. Giant pandas love to climb trees, and this agility means they can get away from predators like wild dogs. They’re not the fastest runners, so going upwards means a better chance to survival in the wild!
2. You’ll mostly find them eating
Giant pandas actually spend 10-16 hours a day eating. That’s well over half of the entire day spent guzzling bamboo – and why not?! Pandas can eat anywhere from around 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo every single day, which might be why they’re so giant… now that’s a pretty interesting giant panda fact!
3. It’s not all bamboo, though
While 99% of a giant panda’s diet does consist of bamboo, they have been known to eat a few other things too. Other additions to their diet can include eggs, domestic pig food, vegetables, wheat, pumpkin, small animals, carrion and kidney beans. For the most part, though, bamboo is king!
4. Their bowel movements are like clockwork
Pandas poo up to 40 times every day, and it’s always very regular. There’s not much else to say about that giant panda fact, really…
5. They can swim
While they can’t quite do kung fu a la Po (played by Jack Black) in DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda, giant pandas can swim. Under all that fur they are pretty lean as well as being strong, and they’re really good swimmers. In the wild they don’t actually need to swim all that much, as their natural environment doesn’t lend itself to the crossing of huge masses of water – nor do they hunt marine life. But if they need to swim, they can and do!
6. Giant panda babies are born in August
Pandas tend to mate between March and May, and the average gestation period for a giant panda is just 3-5 months: less than a human pregnancy! Panda mums tend to give birth to twins. In the wild only the strongest baby will survive, going on to live a happy life of sleeping and bamboo-eating. When giant pandas are born i captivity, both pandas generally survive. The weaker twin is hand reared, but the pandas are swapped over regularly so the mother gets time with each of them.
7. Not all giant pandas are black and white
Okay, so most of them are. They’re born pink and bald, as well as blind – but still adorable. Most of them do grow up to have that classic black and white colour combination but there are a few (very rare) brown and white giant pandas. These brown and white pandas are actually a subspecies of panda, called the Qinling panda. They were first discovered in the 1960s, and were officially recognised as a subspecies much later in 2005. Qinling pandas have smaller skulls, are a bit smaller than giant pandas usually are, and have spots under their eyes instead of all the way around. Oh, and they’re so cute.
8. They actually have the teeth of carnivores
One of my favourite giant panda facts is that despite a giant panda’s diet consisting of pretty much solely bamboo, they actually carnivorous teeth. This means they are super sharp and could easily destroy prey – but the slow and ambling nature of a panda (as well as their love of bamboo) means that they don’t really bother. Their digestive track is that of a carnivore, too, but they’re just not that bothered.
9. Giant pandas have also had other names
The etymology of the giant panda is complex. ‘Panda’ was borrowed from the French, but the origin of the French word itself is unconfirmed. It is thought that the word could be linked to the Nepali word ‘ponya’ – and this could refer to the adapted wrist bone of the red panda, a Nepal native. Because the red panda was always just described as a panda, giant pandas got called giant pandas in order to distinguish the two species. As historians and language specialists have looked back at ancient Chinese writing, they have seen pandas given other names. These have included bamboo bear and giant bear cat.
10. They can grow pretty big
Pandas aren’t the biggest bears, but they are quite big. They have thick bodies and large heads, with strong limbs too. Adult male pandas grow to between 1.2 and 1.9 metres in length, and they can weight up to 160 kg. Female giant pandas are generally 20% smaller, weighing up to around 125 kg.
Where to see giant pandas outside of China
Of course, when we think of giant pandas we think of China. But you can see pandas elsewhere too. Various zoos across the world have pandas, loaned to them by the Chinese government. There are contracts in place surrounding these loans, which are linked to reproduction in order to try and improve the conservation status of these majestic creatures. Here’s where you can see some pandas!
- ZooParc de Beauval, Loir-et-Cher, France
- Pairi Daiza Zoo, Hainaut, Belgium
- Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh, Scotland
- Tiergarten Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria
- Ähtäri Zoo, Ähtäri, Finland
- Zoo Aquarium, Madrid, Spain
- Copenhagen Zoo, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Ouwehands Dierenpark Zoo, Rhenen, the Netherlands
- Adelaide Zoo, Adelaide, Australia
- River Safari, Singapore
- Zoo Atlanta, Georgia, USA
- Memphis Zoo, Tennesse, USA
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington DC, USA
- Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico City, Mexico
- Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada
- Berlin Zoo, Berlin, Germany
- Taman Safari, West Java, Indonesia
- Ueno Zoological Gardens, Tokyo, Japan
- Zoo Negara, Ulu Klang, Malaysia
- Everland Amusement Park, Yongin, South Korea
- Moscow Zoo, Moscow, Russia
- Taipei Zoo, Taipei, Taiwan
- Chiang Mai Zoo, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Getting to see a panda is a rare and beautiful experience. If you get the chance to visit one of these zoos, you definitely should (although make sure it is an ethical zoo first!).
You can obviously see pandas in China too
It goes without saying that China has plenty of places where you can see giant pandas. Chengdu is known as the panda capital of the world, and giant pandas still exist in the fid across the Sichuan province. This is where most of China’s giant panda research facilities are located! Below you’ll find some of the best places to see giant pandas in China…
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
After rescuing six sick pandas in the 1980s, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has bred hundreds of pandas thanks to technological innovations and extreme care. They have won many awards for their research. This includes researching disease control, genetic management, breeding, cub feeding and much more. The base runs a variety of education programmes, working with schools and communities around the world to teach them about giant pandas. Thousands upon thousands of tourists flock here every year to see giant pandas! You can pay extra to hold and cuddle a baby panda, even feeding it and getting photos.
It is worth noting that at the time of writing this article, human-panda interactions are currently suspended due to the ongoing global pandemic.
This is one of the most famous places to see giant pandas. Beijing is one of the popular locations in China among holidaymakers, many of whom are dying to see giant pandas. The first panda born in captivity was born at Beijing Zoo, back in 1963. There are two panda houses here, the Asian games Panda House and the Beijing Olympic Games Panda House. Alongside having pandas, Beijing Zoo was the first open zoo in the world and remains one of the best. They have such a huge range of animals, with pandas being firm favourites among visitors.
Shanghai is another popular location when it comes to planning a trip to China. And Shanghai Zoo is home to giant pandas! They are located in the Carnivore Zone (see fact 8!) and live with red pandas too. The giant pandas are carefree and laid-back, surrounded by bamboo and a pleasure to visit. You’ll see an indoor exhibition area as well as their outdoor playground, and the pandas can usually be seen napping, eating or rolling around having fun.
Dujiangyan Panda Base
Located around 1.5 hours from Chengdu, this is part of a network of research bases known as the Oolong Nature Reserve Network. This particular branch is one of the best places to see giant pandas in China because of their Panda Keeper Program. You can basically volunteer to babysit pandas for a day – which sounds like the best job ever. You get to wake them up from their slumber, clean the enclosures out, prepare their dinner and play with the pandas. This amazing interactive experience isn’t offered in many places so if you’re a real panda fan, head here to see them!
Bonus giant panda fact- they are all owned by China!
One giant panda fact that comes as a surprise to most is that all giant pandas in the world are owned by China. Even pandas that are found outside of China are not owned by that country, China simply leases the animals out. This means that any babies born belong to China too.
Fascinating giant panda facts
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