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The panda lives in the broadleaf and coniferous forests in a select few mountain ranges in the Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces of central China. The panda’s range once extended into the lower-reaching areas, but deforestation and farming has reduced the animal’s range significantly.
Roughly the size of the American black bear, the panda stand two to three feet tall and can reach up to six feet in length, with males typically growing larger than females. The panda has black-and-white markings and is often referred to as a bear due to its body configuration, however, taxonomist do not technically classify the panda as a “bear.”
The panda has large teeth and powerful jaw muscles evolved specifically for crushing bamboo. In the wilds of China the panda’s is an omnivore, eating both plant and animal matter, with its diet comprised almost exclusively of bamboo, with the balance consisting of other plants and the occasional animal. In zoos, pandas eat up to 40 pounds of bamboo, rice, sugar cane, apples, sweet potatoes and carrots a day.
In captivity and the wild the panda spends most of its day feeding and sleeping. While adult pandas are typically solitary, the animals do communicate with scent markings and vocalizations. Young pandas remain with their mothers for two to three years. Until very recently scientists believed pandas spent virtually all of their life alone, meeting only during the breeding season. However, recent studies found small family groups of pandas sometimes share large territories and often meet outside of the mating season.
The World Conservation Union has listed the panda as an endangered species and there are only an estimated 1,600 animals left in the wild. Over 300 pandas live in captivity around the world, in zoos and breeding centers. Scientists are not sure how long the panda’s life span is, but there are reports of some living up to 35 years.