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The Discovery of Giant Pandas

The Records
The records about the Giant Panda, written in the early Western Zhou Dynasty in the Book of History and the Book of Songs go back as early as 3,000 years ago. For centuries the Giant Panda skin was a rare tribute presented to the emperors.

Armand Pare David
The existence of the Giant Panda was first made know to western countries by Armand Pare David, a French missionary. His experience as biologist told him, at first sight of the black and white pelt, that this animal should be a new species. So he sent the sample to Melne Edwards, the director of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. After careful examination of its fur and skeleton, Edwards proclaimed, in a paper published in 1870, that it was indeed a new species, and he named it Ailuropoda. In honor of David for his discovery of this new species, Edwards designated Ailuro-pod, melonoleruca David as its scientific name, by which it is still known today. The first sample, obtained by Armand Pare David in Baoxing County, Sichuan Province is still kept at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, France.

Ruth Harkness
The first person who brought a living Giant Panda out of china was an American clothing designer, Ruth Harkness, whose husband, William Harkness, was a zoologist and explorer. Shortly after their marriage, they came to China with the hope of finding the Giant Panda. But unfortunately, William Harkness died of illness in Shanghai on the way to their destination.


In order to fulfill her husband's wish, Mrs.Harkness went to Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, with two American born Chinese as her guides and interpreters. When they came to Baoxing County, where Armand Pare David had discovered the Giant Panda, they began their intensive search for the elusive creature. Finally, in the bamboo groves at the foot of the Jiajin Mountain, they discovered a panda club, which was about 30 days old and weighed less than two pounds.


Ruth was wild with joy and cared for it as if it were a baby. She also gave her a beautiful name, Su Lin. With the help of her friends, she successfully passed through Customs with the cub in a bamboo basket, for a bribe of only two dollars and boarded the President McKinley. The little panda was registered as a puppy. Su Lin was put on display at the Chicago Zoo in the spring of 1937, and became a superstar overnight, with more than 40,000 visitors a day.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in October 1949, the Giant Panda became a most treasured political gift of friendship. Since 1983 China no longer gives it as a gift to other countries, but the Giant Panda still has opportunities to go abroad to attend activities such as Olympic ceremonies or joint scientific research displays, which makes it even more valuable. The Giant Panda is the animal much sought after by the zoos around the world, yet it is one of the most difficult to obtain.

The Life of the Giant Panda

Over the past millions of years, the Giant Panda has confronted great evolutionary challenges and has developed a unique life style. It lives mainly on bamboo leaves, but has retained the natural instinct of living alone and eating flesh.

The Giant Panda is a number of the carnivore order, and still retains some structural features of carnivores. But now, the Giant Panda lives on a diet of 99% bamboo, occasionally eating the new leaves and fruits of the other plants, or even preying on little animals such as bamboo rats, which exposes its carnivorous nature. Why a fossil of prehistoric time still survives is a mystery. But obviously, the Giant Panda has survived, and not died out as other ancient animals have, mainly because they live on the bamboo, widely distributed in the northern temperate zone.

The Giant Panda finds various bamboos at different altitudes. In the area of 1,600 to 3,600 meters above sea level, the Giant Panda finds fresh and delicious bamboo shoots and branches during different seasons. But the Panda's paradise is the area of 1,800-2,500 meters above sea level, where bamboo groves mix with broadleaf trees and needle forests. The eating habits of the panda are very amusing. He walks in a noble manner, looking around for just the right bamboo. Having found it he adjust himself to the most comfortable sitting position, bends over the bamboo stem with his hands, bites the bamboo into two sections and munches on them from both hands, like a kid eating a candy treat,

The Giant Panda is naughty by nature and fond of climbing trees. In childhood, it climbs trees just for fun. When older, it climbs trees for the purposes of enjoying sunshine, evading enemies' attacks and sometimes even mating. Little pandas under 3years old are especially active. Besides climbing trees, they like rolling on the ground, playing with their mothers, or brothers and sisters. Wild Giant Pandas sometimes come to the villagers' houses and play with their cookers as toys, even chew them up and swallow them. So the Panda has acquired another funny name-metal-eating animal. Some people have even seen them go into pigsties or sheepfolds to stay with pigs or sheep.

The Giant Panda is a species that has survived the Quaternary Ice Age, so it neither fears the cold weather nor hibernates. Even when the temperature drops to -4-14 ,it still walks around looking for food in the snow-covered bamboo groves, and does not hibernate in tree caves or in rock caves like many other animals such as the black bear. Moreover, the Giant Panda never fears humidity. It lives all the year round in the damp woods with humidity of over 80%.

The Giant Panda has the habit of drinking lots of water, so it usually chooses to live near springs or rivers .In winter, it breaks the ice with its paws for water, and sometimes drinks so much that it can hardly move; then it simply lies by the stream like a drunken man. The local villagers call it the Giant Panda Drunken with Water. The reason why the Giant Panda loves water is that the bamboo it eats contains so little water that it has to drink a lot to supply the water that its body needs. The Giant Panda also loves to be in water and is a good swimmer.

The Giant Panda has poor eye-sight, but a sharp sense of smell and hearing. It lives in the damp woods most of the time and usually used its sense of smell to identify its domain, information from the opposite sex and even whether the bamboo is tender or not. The Giant Panda also has a keen sense of hearing, which enables it to identify unusual sounds form enemies and to evade them in time.

The Giant Panda reaches adolescence usually by the age of 6-7, but earlier maturity can occur at the age of 4-5 when bred in captivity. Spring is the mating season for pandas. Sometimes a female may have several males courting her. When this happens, the males fight for the right to mate with the female. But shortly after mating, the couple splits up and they return to their single lives again.

The pregnancy usually takes 3-5 months. In autumn, the mother panda will make careful preparations for her delivery. She finds a shaded, windproof place, usually a hole in a tree trunk or a rock cave, and mats it with dried bamboo branches and leaves .Newborn baby pandas are rather pitiful: eyes closed, furless pink skin, long tail and unable to stand. They are extremely tiny and vulnerable when they are born, with an average weight of 100g, which is 1/1000 of that of their mothers. You can imagine how hard it is for the mothers to nourish and raise these weak cubs.

Wild pandas have an average life span of 15 years. Female pandas have a reproductive period of about 5-7years.Usually one birth produces only one baby, two in rare cases, and when this happens the mother is capable of raising only one; the other is left to die. The low reproductive rate of the Giant Panda and the harsh conditions of the environment put this fragile species in great danger of gradual degeneration and extinction.

Although the Giant Panda is a friendly animal, it has its enemies such as the leopard, jackal and wolf, which usually attack panda cubs or aged of sick pandas. Young and strong Giant Panda fight ferociously back as their carnivorous forefathers did. The Giant Pandas in the zoo appear to be tame, but they may attack visitors when teased and infuriated.

Protection of the Giant Pandas

Many people are concerned about the Giant Panda. While marveling at its survival through the millions of years, people are still worried about its future.

From the perspective of evolution, the Giant Panda has experienced many highs and lows. Its distribution area has shrunk from all of East Asia to only in China. Within China; its distribution area has become limited to certain areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. This is due to the unrestricted expansion of human beings, especially during the past half century. It is estimated that the wild Giant Panda population is less than 1,000, scattered over only six mountain ranges-Qingling, Minshan, Qionglai, Liangshan and Xiangling-under the jurisdiction of 37 counties of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. Eighty percent of the wild Giant Panda live within the 32 counties of southwest Sichuan Province.

The five counties of Qiongzhu, Dayi, Pengzhou, Chongzhou and Dujiangyan of Sichuan Province are home to the Giant panda. The nearest site, Baishuhe of Pengzhou County, is only 60 kilometers from Chengdu.

Since the distribution of the Giant Panda is in clusters, like little islands, it is inevitable that its inbreeding would lead to the loss of genetic diversity. Moreover, the Giant Pandas are very particular about their food, which puts them in great danger of food shortage. Bamboos go through periodic sysles when they die off as part of their renewal. At the end of their lifecycle, they will bloom and drop their seeds and then die. When this occurs, it could mean starvation, disease and death for the Giant Panda. In fact, most of the bamboos in Mt.Minshan and Mt.Qiongzhu bloomed and died in the 70's and 80's of the 20th century. As a result, the Giant Panda population dropped sharply. The worldwide endeavor to save the Giant Panda from this crisis is still a fresh memory.

A series of effective measures have been taken by the Chinese government to save and protect the Giant Panda, not only the national treasure of China but also loved and cared about by people around the world. In 1957, a decision was made at a conference of the 3rd National Party Convention to set up nature reserves, launching a ban on hunting and capturing of Giant Panda.


In 1963, the first five nature reserves were established, four of which were devoted to the protection of Giant Pandas, they were Wolong Nature Reserve in Wenchuan County, Baihe Nature Reserve in Nanping County, Wanglang Nature Reserve in Pingwu County and Labahe Nature Reserve in Tianquan County. Until now, 32 nature reserves have been established in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces mainly for the protection of the Giant Panda.


They cover an area of 10,550 square kilometers, which is 81% of the panda distribution area. Sichuan Province has 25 of the 32 nature reserves, covering an area of 8,607 square kilometers, which is 82% of the total protection area. The most famous nature reserve; Wolong has an area of about 2,000 square kilometers. These efforts seem to be effective in protecting the inhabitants of the nature reserves and limiting the harm to the Giant Panda from human beings. It is gratifying to note that the wild Giant Panda population has remained basically stable.

International organizations have also shown great concern or the Giant Panda. As early as 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was set up with the Giant panda as the emblem on its badge and banner, which indicated that its purpose was to protect the rare and endangered species represented by the Giant Panda. The Chinese government has in recent years carried out a series of programs on scientific research and protection of the Giant Panda in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and the Man and the Biosphere Program. Furthermore, China is a member nation of a number of international treaties, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on Biological Diversity, etc. and has fulfilled her commitment to saving and protecting the endangered species.

With the increased protection of the Giant Panda, it is satisfying to notice that the decline of the Giant Panda population has been curbed, and that the number bred in captivity is increasing. If this trend continues, we believe that the Giant Panda will survive. It is China's wish that the Giant Panda, a rare treasure, be your friend and co exit with humankind!

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