Not a Black and White Problem
By Dilshani Palugaswewa
If there’s one animal that is true to the saying ‘you are what you eat’ it is probably the black and white bearlike mammal we all would perhaps call our kindred spirit at some point or the other –the Giant Panda. Recently, China after decades of tireless conservation efforts, had their ‘endangered’ status upgraded to ‘vulnerable’.
Chinese officials also announced that the animals’ wild population has almost doubled after 30 years of government-led recovery efforts. However, we cannot rejoice just yet because they are still under threat but this time not because of predators but the lack of giant wood grass that make up 99 per cent of their diet. Almost every aspect of a panda’s life revolves around their food source – bamboo.
Giant pandas eat, eat & eat…
Pandas spend more than half the day eating. Reason for their constant bamboo consumption is because bamboo is a very important nutritional source for them which is low in protein but high in fibre. Thus to compensate, pandas need to eat 20 to 40, pounds a day.
When they are not eating…
A panda’s digestive system is similar to that of a carnivore than a herbivore –this perhaps would explain why they don't digest plants very well. When these adorable creatures are not chowing down on bamboo stalks, they spend a great deal of time either napping or pooping. As most of their consumption goes undigested, passing much of it as waste. Much as 100 times a day, amounting to 40 pounds of waste. And this comes as no surprise as pandas even defecate when they are napping, and as it’s also one of their favourite things to do due to their low energy diets, they also poop a lot.
Tiny cubs because…
The reason panda cubs are extremely tiny traces back to their diet choice. Baby pandas are born blind, and weigh just 5 ounces. According to National Geographic, of all placental mammals, panda cubs are the tiniest in comparison to their mothers. Due to poor low metabolism, a panda mother has a relatively low blood oxygen level. Thus the cubs are born tiny so they can get more oxygen outside the womb of their mother.
Their colour combination too rounds back to their diet. As they don't store enough fat to hibernate like other bears, they have to keep eating bamboo all year round. And since they're always roaming in search of bamboo, pandas are unable to shed their fur quickly enough to blend into their backgrounds like some other animals are capable of doing. Their two-colour pattern may allow them to somewhat camouflage themselves when in snow lands with their white fur, while their black fur would allow them to blend into shady forest areas.
Historically, pandas inhabited a much wider range than they do today as they faced multiple predators, so it made sense that they relied on their ability to camouflage. Today, pandas are at more risk from the loss of their food source rather than from any predator. Due to increasing logging and human development, pandas have been driven to isolated fragmented mountain regions, restricting their access to bamboo.
Climate change also poses a significant threat to eliminate more than a third of the bamboo habitat that pandas rely on, by the end of the century. Good news however, is that with the recent status upgrade, China notes an increase of pandas by 17 per cent over the past decade and an estimated 1850 pandas remain in the wild in China. These conservation efforts are a success story that gives us hope to keep the numbers rising and our giant clumsy bears safe and healthy.