Family’s Giant panda

 

Pandas aren’t party animals by any stretch of the imagination. Like other bears, they spend most of the day eating and sleeping. Wild pandas are solitary by nature, and they take their own “space” seriously! Since a panda needs so much bamboo each day to survive, it only makes sense that two’s a crowd when it comes to the bamboo forest. If two pandas happen to cross paths, they’ll growl, swat, and lunge at each other, and maybe even bite each other. There are two exceptions to this less-than-welcoming attitude: the very brief mating season and mothers with cubs.

Although pandas are generally solitary as adults, they are exposed to the scents of other neighboring pandas that have crossed over their path days or weeks before. If a female is starting her estrus soon, it makes sense that she would need to advertise her status to any males that might be in the area. She scent marks, and a male that comes across her scent a few days later can recognize the change in her status via that scent mark. Our research in Wolong has confirmed that males are more interested in scent from a female who was known to be in estrus at the time she left the scent.

Once he has identified this change in a female’s status, a male remains closer to this female, assessing her status more frequently and keeping closer tabs on her so he can be present when she is ready for mating. This is important, as there is only a two- to three-day period that the female is receptive to breeding. When she is no longer receptive, the male moves on to find another willing female. He does not help raise any cubs born.

Pandas like to be by themselves most of the year, and they have a very short breeding season, when a male looks for a female to mate with. Females give birth to one or two cubs, which are very dependent on their mother during the first few years of life. In the wild, mother pandas care for only one of the young. In panda facilities in China, keepers help to hand raise any twin cubs; one baby is left with the mother and the keepers switch the twins every few days so each one gets care and milk directly from the mother.

Pandas have a slow reproductive rate: mature females usually breed just once every two or three years. In the wild, a typical female panda may bear about five litters in her lifetime.

Giant pandas are only about the size of a stick of butter at birth, and they’re hairless and helpless. The panda mother gives great care to her tiny cub, usually cradling it in one paw and holding it close to her chest. For several days after birth, the mother does not leave the den, not even to eat or drink!

The cub’s eyes open at 50 to 60 days of age, and by 10 weeks the cub begins to crawl. Its teeth appear by the time it is 14 weeks old, and mother and cub spend much less time using their den. By 21 weeks, the cub is able to walk pretty well. At this time, the cub starts to play with its mother, and at 7 to 9 months of age, it starts attempting to eat bamboo. The cub continues to nurse until about 18 months of age. At this time, the mother is ready to send the cub off on its own, so she can prepare for her next cub.

Once a young panda reaches a weight of about 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and is about 2.5 years old, it is probably safe from predators. However, animals such as the golden cat, yellow-throated marten, dhole, and weasel prey on panda cubs and juveniles. Long ago, panda cubs were also prey to tigers and leopards, as their relatively slow gait on the ground made them easy pickings. To stay safe, solitary cubs scamper high in trees and remain there until their mother returns, spending hours and hours asleep up in those trees. When they are resting quietly in the branches, they can be hard to spot. Even the San Diego Zoo’s cubs can easily be overlooked when sleeping in trees that have been trimmed to allow for better viewing for our guests.

Today, pandas have fewer predators than they did historically. Tigers are generally not found in what remains of panda habitat, and leopards are found in reduced numbers. But the drive to remain safe is still the same, and is seen even in pandas housed in zoos and breeding centers.

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