Ailuropoda melanoleuca. Also panda bear. Sifang, Szechuan, now Sichuan, China. 1909.
Although giant pandas are doubtlessly one of the best known animal species, there are at most only 3,000 of them in the world today. They are rarely shown in museum collections.
ONE FOR ALL
As the logo of the WWF and a symbol for all threatened animal species on earth, the giant panda has attained international renown. However, at not even 6,000 square kilometers, its natural habitat is tiny. With highly specialized eating habits, the panda bear is dependent on mountainous regions thickly vegetated with bamboo. Of the hundreds of different types of bamboo, the panda generally eats only four or five, but ten to twenty kilograms a day of them. The situation becomes critical in particular when every few decades the bamboos all begin to flower at once, and the plants then die. Until the new shoots are available in adequate quantities, the pandas have to go hungry.
In addition to poaching and illegal fur trade – both carry strict sentences in China, in some cases even earning the death penalty – a slow rate of reproduction is another reason why there are now so few of the black-and-white bears. A female panda bear generally gives birth to just one tiny cub every three years. At its birth, the helpless newborn cubs weigh no more than 130 grams: forty per cent of all panda cubs do not survive the first year.
Humans have seldom been successful at raising panda offspring. Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna is one major exception: the two cubs naturally conceived and born in 2007 and 2010 – exactly three years apart – and raised by their mother are an international sensation. For this reason, the panda cubs Fu Long – since returned to China – and Fu Hu have been top stars at Schönbrunn for years.