There are only two different panda species in the world, the giant pandas and the red pandas. Despite their common name, the two are not scientifically related to each other. They live in roughly the same geographic area and have a similar diet; both are also dwindling in terms of their population numbers. The giant panda is actually a species of bear, and as a result is known in some places as a “panda bear.” These animals can be quite large and are very distinctive in coloring: they are primarily white with large black patches around their eyes, on their ears, and across other portions of their bodies. As the red panda’s name suggests, these creatures tend to take on a more rust color, and are considerably smaller. In most cases they resemble domestic cats in both size and agility, and tend to live in rockier, more mountainous terrains. The two rarely if ever come into contact with each other in the wild.
Both animals are native to Central Asia, but their distribution areas tend to be a bit different. Researchers believe that the bears exist only in a few isolated bamboo forests in south-central China. The red versions also live in this part of China, but their habitat also branches out also westward across Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The name “panda” is believed to come from the Nepalese word “ponya,” which means “bamboo” — and indeed, bamboo is the primary food source for both creatures. This is one way of explaining the common name. In most other respects, the animals are very different.
Giant Panda Facts
The giant panda is known scientifically as Ailuropoda melanoleuca, and molecular studies have shown that it is a true bear and part of the Ursidae family. It is widely regarded as one of the gentlest bears, and it is predominantly an herbivore, which may explain its general lack of aggression.
A giant panda’s average height is usually somewhere between five and six feet high (152.5-183 cm), roughly the height of an average human. They tend to weigh a lot more, though, with bears regularly weighing more than 200 pounds (about 91 kg). The bears are a really important part of Chinese culture and it is believed that pandas were once the most treasured animal in the in the emperor’s garden of exotic animals.
Bears will typically consume nearly 80 pounds (36.4 kg) of bamboo each day, which does place a certain limitation on their habitat. In short, they need to live where the forests are rich and dense, and where there is always a steady supply of food. They have also been known to eat small rodents and other animals when food is scarce; honey, eggs, fish, and fruits like oranges and bananas are sometimes also consumed when they are available. The animals will typically spend around 16 hours a day just eating. This sort of panda has a paw consisting of a thumb and four fingers, and the thumb’s only essential duty is to hold bamboo while eating. The animals are also climbers and, despite their weight and size, can often scale to great heights; the thumbs can also help in this endeavor, at least when it comes to gripping and pulling
Red Panda Differences
Red pandas carry the scientific name Ailurus fulgens, and are not bears at all. They look something like a cross between a cat and a fox and are about the size of both of those animals, though many people do think that they have a certain bear-like appearance, at least in the face. Their average height is roughly 24 inches (61 cm), and at their heaviest they weigh in around 13 pounds (5.9kg). They typically have long, bushy tails that they use both for balance when climbing and swinging through the trees and to keep themselves warm while sleeping.
The red panda is also native to China, though it is also commonly found in Bhutan, Nepal, and parts of northern India. These animals are typically found on steeper slopes of the Himalayan Mountains rather than in the lowland bamboo groves that the bears prefer, and they tend to favor dense coniferous forests. Like the giant panda, the majority of the red panda’s diet consists of bamboo, though they’ll also eat berries, mushrooms, acorns, and a variety of grasses.
Threats to Habitat and Survival
Populations of both panda species are considered threatened, but to different degrees. Giant pandas are widely classified as “endangered,” and their population in the wild is widely estimated to be below 1,600. Many different zoos and nature preserves have spent tremendous time and money trying to help the species grow with the intention of boosting the populations that roam China freely, but the problem is a very complicated one. Habitat loss is a major piece of the puzzle.
Red pandas are classed by wildlife groups as “vulnerable,” and their population numbers are estimated at around 10,000 in the wild. The main threats to their survival are human development and land use as well as trapping: the red panda is often trapped and killed in devices meant for other animals entirely. In some cases they are also hunted for their fur, which is sometimes coveted for clothing and accessories.