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National Panda Day

National Panda Day, also known as Giant Panda Bear Day and Panda Day, celebrates the giant panda. It sometimes is also used to celebrate the red panda, although this is usually not the case, as red pandas already have their own holiday. The number of giant pandas in the wild has slowly been increasing since the 1970s, when there were only about 1000. As of 2020, there were about 1900 giant pandas in the wild, and about 300 in zoos. Still, the giant panda is considered to be vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Years ago, giant pandas could be found throughout southern and eastern China, Myanmar, and northern Vietnam. Humans are their greatest threat, and the expansion of population and development has led to habitat fragmentation and loss and has limited them to six mountain ranges in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi. Most live in cool, wet bamboo forests in the Minshan and Qinling mountains, between 5,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level. Establishing new reserves and extending existing ones is essential for preserving and rebuilding the panda population. Close to two-thirds of the world's pandas are now protected in China's reserves.

Giant pandas are curious and playful. They are usually peaceful and live solitary lives away from confrontation. Not many predators go after them, but they can fight back if needed. They have powerful strength and jaws, and teeth just like other bears, which allow them to protect themselves. Panda cubs receive the brunt of predators' attacks and are sometimes preyed on by snow leopards, yellow-throated martens, and jackals.

Giant pandas grow to about five feet in length and to as much 275 pounds in weight, being similar in size to black bears. They are known for their black and white camouflage-providing coat, with the black fur being around their eyes and on their legs, shoulders, muzzle, and ears. Female pandas reach sexual maturity around the age of four or five, while male pandas reach it around the age of six or seven. Pandas don't breed for life and instead have multiple partners. They only associate with their partners for two to four days, and then go back to their solitary ways. They mate in spring, and the gestation period averages 135 days.

Pandas usually give birth to one cub at a time and can have a cub about once every two years. Cubs are tiny at birth, weighing about 3 to 5 ounces—being about the size of a stick of butter. They depend on their mothers at birth and are weaned at about 8 or 9 months. They usually stay with their mother until she becomes pregnant again. Their lifespan is about 14 to 20 years in the wild, and 30 years in captivity.

Pandas can swim and climb, but don't hibernate. They eat almost nothing but stems, leaves, and shoots of various types of bamboo. They eat for around 12 hours a day and may consume as much as 28 pounds of bamboo during that time. One reason they have to eat so much is that bamboo is relatively low in nutrients. If there isn't enough bamboo around, pandas will supplement their diet with other foods, such as small animals.

The popularity of giant pandas rose in the twentieth century. Fashion designer Ruth Harkness brought a baby panda, Su-Lin, to the United States in 1936, which helped raise awareness and concern for pandas. In the early 1960s, the first panda reserves were built in China, and the hunting of pandas was outlawed. In 1979, the World Wildlife Fund (now the World Wide Fund for Nature) and China signed an agreement to work together on conservation efforts, including efforts to save the panda. The giant panda is now a symbol of nature conservation and of China, and we celebrate it today, on National Panda Day.

How to Observe National Panda Day

Celebrate pandas today! Here are some ideas to get you started:

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