Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Animal of the Week: Panda

Having visited zoos around Australia, Europe and North America I feel like I have seen a lot of animals. I've seen the common place zoo standards like orang utans and giraffes to animals I hadn't heard of until I saw them such as the okapi and fossa. However there is still one well known animal I am yet to see. It seems this mysterious animal is just as hard to find in the wild. Recently an intrepid group of "seekers" dispatched by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) couldn't find a single animal on a five day campaign. The animal in question, the panda. The good news is panda seekers did find footprints and droppings, summarising that 33 pandas resided in the area. Click here to see the full story.

The panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca meaning black and white cat foot) is a bear native to central-western and south western. While some animals around the world have become really adaptive in their diet and will eat whatever is available, the panda's diet still consists of 99% bamboo. There are about 25 different species they will eat. Unfortunately bamboo is difficult to digest and obtain nutrients. This causes the panda to be slow moving in nature. They will tend to sit in one spot and eat all the bamboo within arms reach before moving again. Due to their diet they also have to defecate up to 40 times a day. In captivity they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared feed. Pandas have one more digit than humans, five fingers and a thumb. This thumb is actually a modified sesamoid bone, which helps the giant panda to hold bamboo while eating.

In the wild pandas are generally solitary and territorial animals. They use vocalisations and scent marking to mark their territory. Pandas can climb trees and take shelter in hollow trees and rock crevices. Thus, unlike some other bears they do not hibernate and will more often move up and down the mountain ranges to likable temperature regions throughout the year. Mating happens between March and May when the female comes in to esterous once for a days. Copulation with a male will last for 30 seconds to five minutes and the male will attempt several matings to ensure fertilisation. After 160 days a single cub is born. If twins are born in the wild the mother often will only nurture the strongest and allow the weaker to die. Part of the reason is she is unable to supply milk for two as pandas can't store fat.

Unlike many other endangered animals that are spread around the world to ensure genetic diversity, China keeps a firm grip on pandas in captivity. In the 1970s China would loan pandas to North American and Japanese zoos as a form of diplomacy. However in 1984 this ceased and pandas are now lent out on 10 year loans with a borrowing fee of about $US1 million a year with a provision of any pandas born overseas still belong to China. Since 1998, due to a WWF lawsuit, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service only allows a U.S. zoo to import a panda if the zoo can ensure that the PRC will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for the giant panda and its habitat. A 2006 New York Times article outlined the economics of keeping pandas, which costs five times more than that of the next most expensive animal, an elephant.

The panda is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN. Their main threat is habitat destruction, and to a lesser extent poaching. Estimates range between 1,000 and 3,000 still remaining in the wild. Some believe that panda populations are starting to increase. This is largely due to the increase in panda reserves being established. In 2006, there were 40 panda reserves in China, compared to just 13 reserves two decades ago.

Panda Medicine
The panda teaches gentle strength. Although they have the power to attack a human, they rarely do unless they are provoked. You can be strong without flaunting or proving your abilities to the world. If a panda has presented itself before you now is the time to combine your gentleness with strength. Focus on the project with your full attention to avoid problems.

If the panda is bringing you a message about a particular event then know that the early stages will be difficult. When a panda cub is first born it is only three to four ounces, making it's mother nearly a thousand times larger. Initially the mother must help the newborn eat, stay warm and defecate. Life is not easy for a panda in the beginning. This message reflects the beginning of an event or task you have ahead of you. Know though that you can prevail. The panda, although often birthing twins will reject one, leaving it to die. The ability to focus will help you in this event. You too must focus on one path and not get distracted by another less important one.

For those whom panda is a totem, so too is bamboo. Like the panda, bamboo resembles strength but is extremely flexible. It is valued in many Asian countries where it is used for all sorts of things, from being a delicacy to scaffolding. Strength does not have to mean stubbornness. Show flexibility while not breaking from your core principles.

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