One of the most well known and lovable of all creatures on Earth happens to also be one of the most modest, shy and endangered species in the world—China’s giant panda. Unlike its more ruthless omnivorous North American cousin the brown/grizzly bear, and its more curious troublemaking cousin the black bear, the gentle panda is an extremely reclusive and solitary vegetarian (well, mostly vegetarian), spending about two-thirds of its day feeding on bamboo and the remainder of the day resting deep in the lush forests within the Minshan Mountains of the Sichuan province of China.

Here are five more amazing characteristics of this fascinating, yet extremely endangered species.

Panda - Brad Josephs - NHA 2

Image Credit: Brad Josephs, Natural Habitat Adventures

1. Who Needs to Sleep?

Perhaps the better question is, do all bears hibernate? And in the case of the giant panda, the answer is decidedly no. Perhaps in answering this we should first consider whether or not the panda is in fact a member of the bear family as more popularly believed, or as more recently considered is it a closer relative to the raccoon? We’ll let you research that one a bit further and let us know what you think.


Panda thumb

Image Credit: (Modified from Davis, 1964)

2. An opposable thumb?

That’s right, something we share with this amazing creature is that the giant panda has an opposable thumb. Although this bony ligament is in fact not a true thumb, it nevertheless serves a much-needed service. The panda can press its false thumb against the pad of its palm to both grab and help tear the up to 20 different kinds of bamboo shoots that it needs to consume all day to survive.

3. Don’t call me lazy!

Although the giant panda can come off as relatively ‘sloth’-like (sorry sloths!), the fact is that it can really get around. In fact, a panda can climb up to 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet!) to feed on higher mountain slopes in the summer season. Umm, that’s super high.

Panda Sleeping - Brad-Jospehs - NHA

Image Credit: Brad Josephs, Natural Habitat Adventures

4. I’m all good right here.

Ok so maybe they’re a bit lazy. Rather than spending a lot of time looking for the right place to lie down and rest or take a snooze, it seems that the giant panda will simply plop down wherever it’s at and call it a day.

5. Please help me!

Did you know that there are only about 1,800 giant pandas left in this world? They are one of the most majestic yet most endangered creatures on Earth, mostly due to habitat destruction for crops, followed by poaching and a reduced variety of bamboo, it’s staple diet. This is despite the government’s effort to set aside needed nature reserves as sanctuaries for this precious creature.

Panda - Brad Josephs - NHA 3

Image Credit: Brad Josephs, Natural Habitat Adventures

Pandas have been around for two or three million years—a lot longer than us—yet it is completely up to us to make sure they stick around for more than another two to three decades. Scientists are working hard to grow the giant panda population to 5000 – 6000 by 2025. If you want to learn more about this incredible creature, or even to be one of the very few Westerners to event witness the giant panda in the wild, then be sure to join us on a once in a lifetime trip to wild China with Nat Hab and WWF, where you may also have the chance to witness rare moon bears, golden monkeys, the shaggy takin and numerous exotic birds.