What animal is black and white and loved all over the world? If you guessed the giant panda, you’re right! The giant panda is also known as the panda bear, bamboo bear, or in Chinese as Daxiongmao, the “large bear cat.” Actually, its scientific name means “black and white cat-footed animal.” Giant pandas are found only in the mountains of central China. They live in dense bamboo and coniferous forests at altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet. The mountains are covered in heavy clouds with torrential rains or dense mist throughout the year. Giant pandas are bear-like in shape with striking black and white markings. The ears, eye patches, legs, and shoulder band are black. The rest of the body is whitish. Adults are 4 to 6 feet long and may weigh up to 350 pounds, about the same size as the American black bear. However, unlike the black bear, giant pandas do not hibernate and cannot walk on their hind legs. The giant panda has unique front paws-one of the wrist bones is enlarged and elongated and is used like a thumb, enabling the giant panda to grasp stalks of bamboo. They also have very powerful jaws and teeth to crush bamboo. While bamboo stalks and roots make up about 95 percent of its diet, the giant panda also feeds on fish and occasionally small rodents. It must eat 20 to 40 pounds of food each day to survive, and spends 10 to 16 hours a day feeding. Until recently, Washington DC’s National Zoo housed Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, perhaps the most well known giant pandas in North America. A gift from China to the people of the United States, they were presented as a gesture of amity and goodwill to President Richard Nixon when he visited China in 1972. Ling-Ling, at age 23, died in December 1992. Giant pandas are among the rarest mammals in the world. There are probably less than 1,000 left in the wild. Although adult giant pandas have few natural enemies, the young are sometimes preyed upon by leopards. Habitat encroachment and destruction are the greatest threats to the continued existence of the giant panda. This is mainly because of the demand for land and natural resources by China’s 1 billion inhabitants. To offset this situation, the Chinese government has set aside 11 nature preserves where bamboo flourishes and giant pandas are known to live. Giant pandas are being poached, because their dense fur carries a high price in illegal markets in the Far East. The Chinese government has imposed life sentences for those convicted of poaching giant pandas. The low reproductive capacity of the giant panda makes it more vulnerable to these threats, and less capable of rebounding from its low numbers. In 1984, due to its decreasing numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the giant panda as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. This means it is considered in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. This protection also prohibits giant pandas from being imported into the U.S. except under certain conditions. What you can do to help: Join WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) and help protect endangered species and endangered habitats and prevent the illegal trade in animal products.