Beginning with a panda cub carried into the United States in the arms of fashion designer Ruth Harkness in 1936, Americans have been fascinated by giant pandas for decades.  We fawned over Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the 18-month-old pandas who were gifts from the Chinese government during the Nixon Administration, and flocked by the millions to the San Diego Zoo to see Basi and Yuan Yuan when they were on loan from China.  Today only four zoos in the United States house giant pandas:  the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC, the San Diego Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and Zoo Atlanta in Georgia.

Zoo Atlanta - Giant Panda

In the wild, giant pandas once lived in lower elevations in China. Forest clearing, farming, and other development activities have driven them up into the mountains of central China.

Giant pandas are classified as endangered, plagued by habitat loss and a very low birthrate. Fortunately for the world’s panda populations, the survival rate in captivity has grown from about 30% in the 1960s to about 90% today.

Zoo Atlanta - Giant Panda

According to an article in the New York Times, a panda costs five times more to keep than an elephant, the next most expensive animal in a zoo.  

About half of all panda pregnancies produce twins. In the wild, the mother will usually focus her milk supply and energy on the stronger of the twins, abandoning the other. In captivity, zoo keepers work hard to help the mother care for two babies. Even with a concentrated effort, it’s not uncommon to lose one of the twin newborns. Ending this paragraph on a positive note, Bei Bei (the surviving twin recently born in Washington DC) made his debut at the National Zoo in January and Zoo Atlanta is home to the only set of panda twins in the United States.

Zoo Atlanta - Giant Panda Twins Mei Lun and Mei Huan

Mei Lun and Mei Huan are twin, female pandas born at Zoo Atlanta in July 2013. Take three minutes and watch this amazing time-lapse video that shows their growth from newborn to 100 days old. It’s probably the cutest thing you’ll see this week!

About a decade after Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived in Washington DC, the Chinese government evolved from giving pandas as gifts to loaning them for a substantial fee (think seven figures). That means that even pandas born in captivity here in the United States are technically Chinese “citizens” rather than American.

Zoo Atlanta - Giant Panda Eating Bamboo

A giant panda eats about 85 pounds of food a day including bamboo, apples, carrots sweet potatoes, and special panda biscuits.  While they are most definitely cute, giant pandas have large teeth and powerful jaws and can be just as dangerous as any other bear.

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About Shutterbug Sage

Follow my 365 project at http://www.ShutterbugSage.com.

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Animals, One Thing, Three Ways, Photography

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