Stories tagged pandas

It's the story that just keeps going and going. One of the displaced panda's from the China earthquake has given birth to two cubs. There's tons of cute panda footage on this video for all you panda groupies out there. And here's the latest video, showing the actual birth of the panda.

Here's a link to the latest development of the China earthquake's impact on the Wolong Panda Reserve. It sounds like damage is so severe there that authorities will be looking to relocate the facility. One panda is still missing several weeks after the quake. And here are links to previous Buzz posts on the panda/earthquake problem.

Here are some of the latest developments on the China earthquake. One of three missing pandas returned on its own to the Wolong Reserve near the quake's epicenter. Also, residents of the area have been sleeping outdoors due to the risk of aftershocks in the area. More than a week after the quake, things are hardly getting back to normal.

Homeless?: A preserve where rare pandas live and breed was at the epicenter of the strong earthquake that hit China yesterday.Courtesy Sheilalau
Along with the devestating human toll, yesterday's earthquake in China could be devestating to the small breeding panda population in that country. The primary wildlife reserve for pandas to live in the wild is extremely close to the epicenter of the earthquake. National Geographic as full details of the situation at this link. More Science Buzz links to the earthquake can be found here.

UPDATE MAY 14: Panda people, you can breath easier again. All is well with the 86 pandas at the nature reserve at the heart of the Chinese earthquake. Electricty is still out at the preserve, but the pandas are fine.

UPDATE MAY 19: Information from the Wolong Reserve continues to be in flux. Now there are reports that five people were killed at the site and three pandas are missing. You can get full details here.


A bear practices its fighting skills on a monkey: What a strange picture.
A bear practices its fighting skills on a monkey: What a strange picture.Courtesy scottobear
Fantasy cage matches, I have found, are a good way to pass the time. Bear vs. robot got me through most of junior high. How would that turn out? Robot would probably win, really, with all that mechanical strength, and maybe laser eyes, but you never know; bears are tenacious, and the Terminator series has set a long precedence for against-the-odds robot defeats.

The possibilities for these match ups are endless: bear vs. robot, robot vs. vampire, right brain vs. left brain, toaster vs. bread – you get the idea. Just let your imagination run free, and hypothetical combat scenarios can forever replace the humdrum activities of everyday life.

Every so often, I’ve found, the real world will even throw out a match for the ages. Recently discovered fossils in China suggest that around 400,000 years ago giant pandas and an extinct species of giant ape were in direct competition for the same ecological niche.

Pandas 400,000 years ago were more or less like modern pandas. They were a little bit bigger, but, like the pandas of today, they ate bamboo almost exclusively. The apes in question, gigantopithecus blacki, were probably the largest that have ever lived. Gigantopithecus was about ten feet tall, weighed twelve hundred pounds, and probably ate… bamboo.

So we have huge bears and super huge apes both looking to get their paws on the same sweet, juicy, ancient Chinese bamboo. Would they have ever actually thrown down, though? And would it matter if they did, without someone there to see it? It would have been like a tree falling in the woods, with no one around (if falling trees weren’t so boring). Except, it turns out, there may have been someone around after all.

Some archaeologists believe that ancient human may have been a third contender in the competition for food (bamboo?) and habitat in region. Gigantopithecus and early humans probably had about half a million years of overlap before the ape went extinct around 300,000 years ago, and if humans “migrated like the panda through what is now southern China, they likely had contact with the giant apes.”

Spectacular. Human/giant ape interactions are usually pretty interesting, and with a big bear thrown in the mix… well, anything could happen.

No, not quite anything. The apes went extinct, humans came out of it pretty well, and the bears did so-so.


Pooped out?: A new Chinese business venture hopes to convert Panda poop into attractive souvenirs that Summer Olympic visitors will buy next year.
Pooped out?: A new Chinese business venture hopes to convert Panda poop into attractive souvenirs that Summer Olympic visitors will buy next year.
One of my favorite volunteers here at the museum does a lot of activities with artificial scat: that’s science lingo for animal poop.

I guess I’ve been hanging out with him too much, cause this story just jumped off the screen screaming for my attention.

A new company in Sichuan, China, is making odor-free souvenirs for next year’s Summer Olympic games out of Panda poop. You’ll have your choice of everything from dung-y bookmarks to miniature statues of the animals that produced the medium.

"We used to spend at least $770 a month to get rid of the droppings but now they can be lucrative," Jing Shimin, assistant to the base director, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. About 40 pandas are housed at the site and put out nearly a ton of panda poop a year.

A lot of production work goes into the process. All dung is smashed, dried and sterilized at 572 degrees F. The finished products are dyed giving them a variety of colors. The Olympic figurines will show the Pandas posed in a number of athletic positions.


The limestone caves of south China have recently coughed out the bizarre phrase “pygmy giant panda.”

Unsure of exactly what this could mean, the Chinese government has assembled an international team of linguists and philosophers to deconstruct the unusual message.

A local expert weighs in on the issue: Some segments of the panda population resent the association with "any kind of moron." (photo credit: drs2biz on flickr)

“It’s not as complicated as it might initially sound,” says Canadian linguist, Genny LeCroix. “When we began this project, there was the very real concern that ‘pygmy’ and ‘giant’ would simply cancel each other out, leaving just ‘panda,’ which might have been extremely unstable without any modifiers. That’s not the sort of thing you want hanging around in caves. It’s dangerous and confusing. Fortunately, a few lab tests revealed that we were dealing with a real object – bones, in fact – and not an actual oxymoron”

Ironically, discovery turned out to have much more significance to biology and natural history than linguistics. Two million years old, the bones belong to the skeleton of an animal extremely similar to the modern giant panda, only about half the size.

Wear patterns on the pygmy giant panda’s teeth, and muscle attachment locations on the skull, suggest that the extinct creature was adapted to eating bamboo shoots, just like its giant descendent. The giant panda is the world’s only known wholly vegetarian bear, and the evidence that this specialization extends back at least two million years shows that pandas have been “uniquely pandas” for a very long time.

The Chinese government, fearing a repeat of the “pygmy mammoth” situation on Wrangel Island, was thrilled at the news, and has commissioned an international team of experts to reconstruct what the pygmy giant panda must have looked like in life. Here’s a look at some of their early results:
A window to the past: Experts offer an accurate recreation of these ancient, noble creatures.    (photo credit: Xinhua)
A window to the past: Experts offer an accurate recreation of these ancient, noble creatures. (photo credit: Xinhua)

Something a little more straightforward.


Happy pandas: Two new studies show significant increases in panda population numbers. But the debate is still open on if the increase is due to better panda habitat or better counting methods.
Happy pandas: Two new studies show significant increases in panda population numbers. But the debate is still open on if the increase is due to better panda habitat or better counting methods.
Here’s some good news…especially if you’re a panda bear living in China.

A couple recent studies are showing an upturn in panda populations. But the reasons for the greater number of the furry creatures are still being debated.

Researchers now think that there are about twice as many pandas living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve – a 123-square-mile preserve in southwestern China – than were previously believed. The researchers have hiked up their numbers based on DNA samples they’ve collected in Wanglang.

Through the study, it’s now believed that 66 to 72 pandas live in the region, up from the previous estimate of 32.

Those researchers believe the increased panda numbers are the result of several factors: natural population growth, migration from other areas and a logging ban near the preserve which has maintained suitable habitat for pandas. They were also excited to find out a rich diversity in the genetic material they’ve found around the preserve, boding well for strong panda population growth in the coming years.

In a wider survey project of panda populations in China, a four-year census shows a 45-percent increase in the number of bears sighted in the past four years. That count found 1,590 wild pandas compared to 1,100 found during the last census in the 1980s.

But this might not be just the result of improved panda habitat over that time. Researchers admit that they are now using more accurate census techniques. The latest census went higher and deeper into the bamboo-filled mountains that pandas favor to live in. Most of the numbers were put together in previous censuses without actually seeing the pandas that were counted.

The new census, for the first time, used global positioning technology in finding some of the pandas. Counters also looked for chewed up bamboo shoots and the distinctive teeth marks different pandas would leave on the shoots after their meals.

But researchers also note that China has dedicated more land to panda habitat than ever before. There are now 40 panda reserves across the country compared to just 13 a couple decades ago. As the panda numbers continue to climb, some panda enthusiasts worry about another potential problem. Some of the panda preserves are now looking at ways of expanding tourism to their sites.

What do you think? Should people be able to come look at the pandas in the wild as their numbers continue to grow? Has too much, or too little, been done to help this endangered species?