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Tidbits of panda

Updated: 2013-11-28 14:25

1. Panda diplomacy dates back more than 1,000 years, and was evident in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Empress Wu Zetian (AD 625-705) sent a pair of pandas, in elaborate fashion, to the Japanese emperor in 658. On Sept 18 of that year (Chinese lunar calendar), an entourage including two large cages draped in red flowers, escorted by imperial guards and animal trainers, set off from Chang'an the capital, and sped eastward. When they arrived at Yangzhou, they boarded a ship and set sail for Japan. Incidentally, pandas in those days were called white bears.

2. Pandas born in the wild quickly become independent. Six months after birth, they leave their mother and forage alone in the bamboo forest. These "Bamboo hermits" do not have a fixed place to live, they roam alone in the forests, eating day and night, and they sleep at random spots. But they do mark out territory. Eating and sleeping are the two occupations but they relish a chance to frolic.

3. Pandas are very selective over their choice of beverage. Unlike bison, goats and deer, they shun salty or unclear water. They only drink crystal clear water and will not break ice. Frozen water, regardless of how thirsty they are, does not tempt them. It must flow, for pandas to drink it.

4. Pandas have poor eyesight but, in way of compensation, have a great sense of direction. Each panda has its own "territory", which is their "independent kingdom" and rarely will they leave this section of forest. Pandas are resolute in marking their territory with claw marks on trees, by urinating or leaving spoor. This not only shows that the area is occupied but helps them keep track of their own whereabouts. At the base of each panda tail is a hairless patch that releases a smelly substance. This smell is a means of communication, and is especially useful as a courting signal.

5. During the winter many animals go into hibernation but pandas relish the onset of the cold season. This is because of their "clothes". Their fur is layered and thick, which reinforces insulation. Its greasy surface acts like waterproof material. They rarely suffer from rheumatism and can even sleep in the snow.

6. Their diet is not exactly fast food. Bamboo is not the most nutritious of foods so pandas have to eat as often as possible. An adult giant panda consumes about 12.5 kilograms of bamboo a day, and can eat for more than 13 hours. They also go to the toilet regularly, leaving deposits, on average, more than 100 times a day.

7. Pandas were originally carnivorous animals, just like their bear cousins. But evolution led to a change in their diet. New research shows that the panda genome reacts badly to meat and their habitat has changed drastically. Scientists have discovered that a panda's gastric juice contains a large number of ciliates, a necessary dietary tool to digest bamboo.

8. Docile and cute, pandas are not predators, but they catch rats, because they are a threat to their staple food of bamboos. In their quest for the vermin, pandas show no mercy. Although pandas look clumsy, they are particularly sensitive to smell. They first smell a rat's hiding place, and then create a disturbance which frightens the rat to come into the open where the panda grabs it. Now the fun starts for the panda, who will play with the trapped rat. Sometimes the rat will pretend to be dead and the panda will pretend to leave it alone. This game of pretence ends as soon as the rat tries to flee. The panda pounces again and when tired of the "cat and mouse" game, will eat it.

9. When pandas drink, they behave in a playful manner; a few mouthfuls, walk a few steps and return to the river to drink again. This can continue for hours on end. They like to drink until their bellies bulge and then they will rest or sleep.

10. Male pandas urinate by doing a handstand, with their high rear end on a tree. This "gymnastics stunt" will ensure that the urine reaches a high point on the tree, increasing the range of the scent to attract females. Pandas look for the thickest trunks possible, ideally long rough bark, which helps the urine to penetrate deeper into the trunk, so that the smell lingers longer. Scientists have found that their urine concentration is higher than any other kind of bears.

11. Black and white are not the only colors. There are also brown and white pandas. The first brown panda was discovered in 1985, and there are five of these pandas. The fifth brown panda Qizai was found on Nov 1, 2009 in the heart of Foping National Nature Reserve in Shaanxi province. The brown pup was abandoned by his mother. He was only about one month old, his eyes were shut and he weighed about two kilograms. Now he is under care from the reserve center, and researchers there hope to let him breed next year, but it is still unknown if his offspring will inherit his rare color.

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