Giant Pandas immediately earn a place in the hearts of human admirers (from a safe distance) thanks to their gorgeous black and white coats, playful demeanor, and awe-inspiring size.
As wonderful as it is to behold the majestic creatures, future generations may not get the chance due to the panda’s status as an endangered/vulnerable species.
How does a beloved species like the panda go instinct?
Is it part of natural selection, or are humans to blame?
We will cover everything you need to know about why pandas became endangered and how to prolong their existence for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Why Are Pandas Endangered?
Pandas have become endangered because they don’t reproduce effectively.
Reproduction complications are due to both natural phenomena and human interference.
As of 2014, only about 1,864 Giant Pandas were living in the wild, and another 600 Giant Pandas living in zoos.
While these numbers seem low, the outlook isn’t as dismal as it may first appear.
Giant Panda numbers have increased 15% over the last 10 years, taking them out of the “endangered” status with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and downgrading them to “vulnerable.”
The increase in Giant Panda numbers was a result of humanitarian conservation efforts that attempted to balance the damage done by less-environmentally conscious human desires that led to the destruction of the panda’s natural habitat (more on that in a bit).
Giant Panda Reproduction
Pandas become of reproductive age at about four to eight years old and remain reproductive until up to 20 years old (although another source says up to 15 years old).
Giant Pandas reproduce only once a year in spring, and the females only have an ovulation window of 24 to 72 hours.
If the Giant Panda doesn’t mate during this time, the panda won’t produce a child that year.
They can try again next year if the mood seems right and there’s a suitable mate during that next annual 24- to 72-hour time frame.
For comparison’s sake, the average human woman ovulates for six days a month (72 days a year compared to two days a year).
Many humans struggle to conceive despite ovulating literally 36 times as often throughout the year as pandas.
Humans tend to try harder, too.
Giant Pandas don’t have the high libido of loving, healthy human newlyweds dreaming of a baby.
In fact, the New York Times quotes Scientific American as saying:
“There is perhaps no mammal that is less often in the mood for sex than the female giant panda.”
Why don’t pandas want to procreate?
First, it’s important to remember that humans mate for pleasure probably more than for the continuation of the species.
Many other mammals, including dolphins and baboons, seem to do it for fun, too.
Pandas, however, frankly don’t appear to enjoy coitus.
It’s just not as pleasurable to them as it is to us.
Pandas are large and slow, and I can only imagine that the logistics of panda copulation aren’t ideal.
They simply don’t think it’s worth the effort, so they usually claim to be tired and go to bed.
When pandas do muster up the energy to mate, they must develop a sincere connection with their partner first.
While charming in theory, this truth is very annoying for zookeepers.
A zoo can introduce a male panda to a female panda assuming that nature will take its course.
However, if one of the creatures isn’t attracted to the other one on a personal level, they won’t mate.
If the weight of the survival of your species wasn’t on your shoulders, you wouldn’t mate with a member of the opposite sex just because they were dropped in front of you, either.
Let’s say there’s a chance between the two pandas.
There’s a bit of a spark, but they’re still figuring it out.
If they meet right before the ovulation period, they may still be creating a bond during that time and miss the chance to make a baby.
Hopefully, the connection is there next year.
For a great example, take Ying Ying and Le Le who lived together at the Hong Kong Zoo.
Zookeepers were excited to introduce them, but they slowly became discouraged after 13 years of no action.
It literally took the pandas 13 years to mate.
The pandas finally mated after the zoo shut down and the pandas got some privacy, which is rather telling.
Tragically, the coitus led to a miscarriage.
At their age, another pregnancy seems unlikely.
Ying Ying and Le Le seem happy together, though, even if they took 13 years to get to know each other.
Can you really blame a panda for waiting to find out for sure if they found the one?
Darwin authoritatively theorized the concept of “survival of the fittest” as part of evolution.
Survival of the fittest essentially means that the ones who have the equipment to survive do, and the ones who don’t will go the way of the dodo bird.
While it may sound harsh, nature may not have provided pandas with the libido and physicality to keep the species going for too much longer, and it may be the natural course of things for them to fade away.
With that being said, humans have pretty much dominated the animal kingdom and the concept of survival of the fittest (so far), and we can use our power to promote future generations of cute pandas that we enjoy so much.
We can prolong the inevitable by promoting legislation that punishes unnecessary destruction of the Giant Panda’s natural habitat and finding alternatives to awkward, forced breeding of strangers in front of crowds of gawking nature lovers.
Giant Pandas reside in China.
More specifically, pandas “live mainly in temperate forests high in the mountains of southwest China.”
Why do Giant Pandas tend to stick to one place?
It’s mostly about the food.
Giant Pandas stick to a rather limited diet of bamboo: bamboo stems, bamboo leaves, and bamboo shoots.
The mountainous forests of southwest China grow a lot of bamboo, which is perfect since pandas need a lot of it.
The Giant Panda eats 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo every single day.
Fun Fact: Giant Pandas are not necessarily herbivores.
While 99% of the Giant Panda’s diet is bamboo, they do eat eggs, wheat, vegetables, and even meat the other 1% of the time.
Many animals would adapt and find a new place to live and a new favorite food, but not pandas.
Since pandas stubbornly stick to their favorite diet and location, when humans tear down the forest, the pandas experience high levels of stress and can’t even think of finding “the one” at that time.
The Giant Panda’s natural habitat was once severely affected by human deforestation for the sake of industrialization and tourism.
It’s not that corporations knowingly put pandas at risk, but the damage was done.
Luckily, the Chinese government has noticed the impact of deforestation on the local wildlife and has put regulations in place to protect the panda’s natural habitat.
While some conservationists attempt to bring pandas to zoos (for profit) in an effort to protect them, most experts agree that pandas thrive better in nature than in confined habitats.
They certainly procreate better in the wild than in captivity.
The stress of moving to a new environment has had many experts wondering if pandas even remember how to procreate when in a zoo.
Most procreation of captive pandas happens via artificial insemination since zookeepers can’t seem to make it happen naturally while the pandas are stuck in a zoo habitat surrounded by predators.
Panda Way Of Life
Pandas tend to be loners.
Just as it’s difficult for a human to find a mate when they don’t socialize, pandas struggle to find mates since they tend to hunt and live as a solitary unit.
What are pandas doing all day by themselves?
Sleeping and eating.
Pandas eat about 12 hours a day and sleep two to four hours between each feeding.
While somewhat of an envious lifestyle, it doesn’t lend itself to ample reproduction.
If another panda does come into another panda’s territory, the home panda doesn’t appreciate the competition for food and immediately urges the visitor to leave—sometimes violently.
On the rare occasion two pandas hit it off and the female gets pregnant, you may think that twins would be great.
Not for the mom.
The mom almost always feeds the stronger twin and leaves the other one to fend for itself instead of caring for both.
How To Increase Giant Panda Numbers
Some people may suggest that we let nature take its course and stop wasting monetary resources and time trying to save the pandas in vain.
However, can’t part of evolution mean that humans evolved to the point that we take care of other species that seem to fight survival at every opportunity?
Can pandas be so evolved that they don’t need to rely on nature but rather humans as a new form of survival?
No, but who wants to get rid of pandas?
We can still try our best even if the pandas don’t always cooperate.
1. Preserve Natural Habitats
First and foremost, we need to keep the Giant Panda’s natural habitat intact.
The Chinese government and other authorities do have regulations in place to protect the panda’s natural environment now, and it’s been effective.
It’s a large reason panda numbers have grown recently.
(Whether you think the government cares more about the money from tourism or the actual animals is for you to decide.)
We pedestrians have to do our part, too, and it starts by having an appreciation for nature in general and applying it to the Giant Panda’s environment.
If you happen to visit southeast China (or anywhere, really), practice the Girl Scout mantra of leaving nature in better condition than you found it instead of throwing your cigarette butt in a tree or scaring the wildlife.
2. Improve Captivity Conditions
Most zoos have the absolute best intentions for the animals they house and actively contribute to the preservation of numerous species, including pandas.
Unfortunately, some animals don’t thrive in captivity, such as pandas.
While we need some Giant Pandas in captivity for research and educational purposes, we should limit the number of captive pandas and try to give the ones already in captivity a comfortable living space.
According to a study in Scientific Reports, pandas prefer about 44 square miles of space.
Zoos cannot accommodate this preference even though they provide the best conditions they can.
It’s important to remember that not every zoo needs a panda exhibit.
When I got my first job at the Brookfield Zoo at 16, I repeatedly and loudly expressed my desire for a panda enclosure (which they still don’t have).
While I still selfishly want to see pandas, I now know it’s probably best if we leave them in the wild instead of competing with the other zoos.
3. Support Zoos And Environmental Charities
Zoos do great work with the money they get from admission and donations.
The money goes to maintenance and operations, but a portion usually goes toward conservation efforts as well.
While at the zoo, visitors also learn about animals and the hazards they face, creating awareness and encouraging people to get involved.
Zoos also often welcome environmental charities to generate awareness and fundraise on the premises.
In most cases, you can trust that the charities you find at the zoo are trustworthy and do what they promise to do.
Support your favorite zoos and charities.
They are part of the solution and not usually part of the problem.
Even though pandas do better in the wild, we need some captive pandas so that we can learn about them and how to best help them.
In the rare case a zoo does not treat pandas properly, report any concerns to the authorities.
However, remember that most zoos are doing the best they can and have the best intentions.
We know a lot about pandas, but we don’t know everything yet.
We still don’t know how to create an artificial environment conducive to panda reproduction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to do it through more research and study.
Although it’s not an ideal solution, we are learning how to artificially inseminate pandas to keep the species alive while we figure out how to get them to mate naturally.
Research requires money and patience.
However, it’s worth the long-term investment when you see your grandchildren marvel at pandas decades from now.
Why Protect The Pandas?
Why go through all the work to protect pandas?
It’s not only because of their adorable appearance (even though it helps).
Pandas actually contribute significantly to their ecosystem.
They spread seeds that gather in their fur, promoting a lush forest without the need for farmers.
The forest then provides food and shelter for other wildlife.
People in the area use the forest for personal and vocational resources.
Reduced panda numbers mean reduced forest numbers.
Fewer people will get work that relies on the forest, such as tourism or logging.
What’s good for the pandas is also good for the nearby people.
Finally, the World Wildlife Fund will have an awkward board meeting if pandas become extinct since they’ll have to decide to keep using an image of a panda on their logo or not.
All jokes aside, please support the World Wildlife Fund.
They genuinely care and work hard for the animals every day, and we should act as allies in any way we can.
Honestly, after my research, I’m amazed that pandas have made it this far.
Logic and evolution aside, they’re still here (both despite and thanks to humans).
Since these cute, ferocious balls of black and white fluff seem hellbent on dying off, it’s up to us humans to help them.
Visit your local zoo, support environmental charities, and show respect to the planet through your everyday choices.
Don’t forget the other animals who need support, too (even if they aren’t as cute).