Giant Panda Twins Born In China — Highly Endangered Species Still Near The Brink

A pair of giant pandas were just born at the the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan. The twins are the first pandas born this year, as far as is currently known. The highly endangered species currently numbers only about 1600 individuals in the wild, with a further 300 or so in captivity.

Image Credit: Panda Nap via Flickr CC
Image Credit: Panda Nap via Flickr CC

The new panda twins were born to an individual that is referred to as ‘Haizi’, by the staffers at the compound where the animal is kept. The twins were born about 10 minutes apart from one another. The staffers have reported that “one cub is a female and weighs 79.2 grams (2.79 ounces).” And that “Haizi has yet to release the other cub from her embrace.”

Giant pandas have a rather slow reproductive rate in the wild, and don’t breed easily while in captivity — being fertile only a couple of days a year. In general pandas don’t adapt particularly well to captivity — so the birth of twins is seen as being particularly good fortune.

China’s panda breeding centers are a somewhat controversial subject, with much criticism leveled at it — with wild panda numbers continuing to fall as a result of continued habitat loss, why spend massive amounts of money to breed them?

To sell them to foreign zoos? For good PR? To avoid having the extinction of the iconic animal on their conscience/associated with their economic ‘growth’?

Something to note before getting too judgmental — while the majority of the world’s now endangered large animals reside in places Asia and Africa, similar animals once roamed throughout Europe and the Americas… The European lion only became extinct about two thousand years ago — during roman times. The aurochs only became extinct during the Middle Ages, etc, on and on… Just something to keep in mind when reading about the falling numbers of animals like giant panda, the lion, the tiger, whales, etc.

Image Credit: Panda 1 year old via Flickr CC
Image Credit: Panda 1 year old via Flickr CC

Some general information on giant pandas via Wikipedia:

“The panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, “black and white cat-foot”), also known as the giant panda to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda, is a bear native to central-western and south western China. It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the panda’s diet is 99% bamboo. Pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.”

“The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. As a result of farming, deforestation and other development, the panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived.”

“The giant panda has a black-and-white coat. Adults measure around 4 to 6 feet long, including a tail of about 5.1 inches, and 2.0 to 3.0 feet tall at the shoulder. Males can weigh up to 350 lb. Females (generally 10–20% smaller than males) can weigh as little as 170 lb, but can also weigh up to 280 lb. Average adult weight is 220 to 250 lb.”

“The giant panda has been a target of poaching by locals since ancient times and by foreigners since it was introduced to the West. Starting in the 1930s, foreigners were unable to poach giant pandas in China because of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War, but pandas remained a source of soft furs for the locals. The population boom in China after 1949 created stress on the pandas’ habitat, and the subsequent famines led to the increased hunting of wildlife, including pandas. During the Cultural Revolution, all studies and conservation activities on the pandas were stopped. After the Chinese economic reform, demand for panda skins from Hong Kong and Japan led to illegal poaching for the black market, acts generally ignored by the local officials at the time.”

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