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Summary Article: giant panda
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Species of bear, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, native to northwest China and Tibet. It has black-and-white fur with black eye patches and feeds mainly on bamboo shoots, consuming about 8 kg/17.5 lb of bamboo per day. It can grow up to 1.5 m/4.5 ft long, and weigh up to 140 kg/300 lb. It is an endangered species. In 2006 there were only 2,500–3,000 remaining in the wild, and more than 200 living in zoos. The giant panda is the symbol of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The giant panda's bamboo diet is of low nutritional value. This makes it impossible for them to hibernate as, although they spend about 12 hours of every day eating, they cannot accumulate the necessary reserves of fat.

Destruction of the giant pandas' natural habitats threatens to make them extinct in the wild, and they are the focus of conservation efforts. Using molecular methods, the 2006 census gave a population more than double previous estimates, but this is still at critical level. Efforts to clone the giant panda have yet to yield success. However, a draft genome sequence of the giant panda, and the first of the bear family Ursidae, was reported in 2009.

Scientific studies In 1998, China's national Academy of Sciences announced a project to clone the giant panda. Although scientists managed to produce early stage embryos and implanted them into various surrogate mothers, no live birth of a cloned giant panda has been reported.

In December 2009, a team at the Bejing Genomics Institute at Shenzhen (BGI-Shenzhen) reported a draft genome sequence of the giant panda covering 94% of its genomic DNA. First analyses of the data suggest that the giant panda's famous bamboo diet is not written in its genes, and may have developed for reasons related to its gut microbes, rather than its own metabolism.

Red panda Although sharing a liking for bamboo, the red panda or lesser panda, Ailurus fulgens, is only a distant relative of the giant panda. It is closer to the raccoons, but forms its own family, the Ailuridae.

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Giant Panda Facts

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bamboo forest, near Huangshan

giant panda

red panda

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