The Giant Panda Paradigm
The Giant Panda is a creature of mystery. Adults and children alike appreciate it for its cute, fuzzy, lovable qualities, but it is an animal that is in desperate need of immediate attention. Scientists know the basics: how and what they eat, where and how they live, and how they reproduce. The fact remains, however, that this universally loved national symbol of China is facing the threat of extinction. What accounts for this fact and what can be or is being done to protect the panda from such a fate? This paper will discuss the characteristics and lifestyle of the panda as well as issues and questions that arise as a result of the threat of their extinction.
Pandas have made their homes in China for centuries; but because of increased development and forest clearing in the lowlands, they have been forced further and further into the mountain ranges over the years ((1)). They inhabit damp forests in those mountains that border on land that farmers increasingly wish to use ((6)). These forests have a dense understory of bamboo and are characterized by heavy rains and dense mist ((1)).
One problem facing pandas is their seeming difficulty in mating successfully. Females have a low frequency of ovulation (once a year in the spring) and the males demonstrate an infamous apathy toward females in heat ((2)). When mating is successful, the female giant panda will give birth, after 96 to 160 days, to a cub that is one-nine hundredth the size of her ((1)). Cubs open their eyes after six to eight weeks, nurse for about nine months, and stay with their mothers for up to three years before venturing out on their own ((1)).
Giant Pandas enjoy a simple lifestyle of sleeping, looking for food, and eating. The monotonous activity seems to be largely due to the amount of food that they must consume: twenty to forty pounds of bamboo daily ((6)). Pandas have inefficient digestive systems, and must therefore spend more than ten hours a day eating the amount of food needed for necessary nutrients ((1)). While their dental structures have adapted to the bamboo diet their digestive systems remain closer to those of carnivores ((6)). This results in a low percentage of food digestion in comparison to the amount that it actually ingests ((6)).
The Giant Panda is currently threatened in a number of ways. The first threats are to their food sources. The Bamboo Rat is a minor, but existent problem that feeds on bamboo roots, killing plants on an individual level ((6)). Bamboo also undergoes phases of growing and then dying as part of the renewal cycle ((7)). This process is not a problem in itself, except for the fact that whereas the pandas might move to a different location to feed, they are running out of places to move because of the expansions of farmland and increased forest clearing ((7)).
The greatest threat of all to the Giant Panda is man. The abovementioned land clearing for farms, residential and commercial areas...