The giant panda is a national treasure in China and is therefore protected by law. This unique bear has long been revered by the Chinese and can be found in Chinese art dating back thousands of years. The Chinese call their beloved pandas "large bear-cats." People outside of China have been fascinated by giant pandas since they were first described by French Missionary Pere Armand David in 1869. Now, more than 100 years later, the worldwide love for pandas has been combined with international efforts to keep them from becoming extinct.
Scientists aren't exactly sure. One theory is that pandas developed the contrasting black and white colors over time so they would stand out in the forest and be able to find each other to mate.
For years scientists have wondered whether pandas are bears, raccoons, or in a group all their own. Through studying the genetic code (DNA) in pandas’ cells, scientists have confirmed the panda's relationship with bears. Giant pandas are similar to other bears in their general looks, the way they walk and climb, and their skull characteristics. It's important to know that pandas are bears, because the more we know about pandas, the better we can help them reproduce and survive.
Giant pandas are only about the size of a stick of butter at birth, and they're hairless and helpless. The panda mother gives great care to her tiny cub, usually cradling it in one paw and holding it close to her chest. For several days after birth, the mother does not leave the den, not even to eat or drink!
Yet despite the attention they receive from their mothers, many young pandas do not survive. Through captive propagation programs in China and other zoos around the world, we are learning more about the care of panda cubs and how to help them reach adulthood.