The giant panda's natural surroundings are the cold and wet bamboo forests in west-central China. In summer it stays mainly on the high plateaus, moving to the valleys in the winter. Pandas were first discovered by western nations in 1869. They began appearing in zoos outside China in the late 1930's, and have been very popular with the public ever since. They are very rare animals. There may be fewer than 1000 left. Farming and the increased development of the forests continue to destroy their natural surroundings.
The giant panda is a mammal with thick black and white fur. It weighs more than 200 pounds and has very powerful teeth that it uses to chew the bamboo on which it feeds. The female gives birth to a single cub in August or September. The baby is lovingly cared for by its mother. Like other kinds of bears, the young panda is very active and playful. Few pandas give birth in zoos. When it does happen, however, newspapers cover the story in great detail.
In the wild, the panda feeds on bamboo shoots, which it eats in great quantities: over 80 pounds a day. In zoos, it sometimes eats meat. When a panda eats, it sits down, freeing its forepaws, which it uses like claws. The paws have 6 fingers, including a special thumb that allows the animal to hold plant stems easily. To keep its stomach filled, the panda spends 16 out of every 24 hours eating!