Sample Literature Review On Wildlife Ecology: The Giant Pandas
The giant panda also known as Ailuropoda melanoleuca is a magnificent mammal. Pandas are white bears, with black eye patches, ears, legs, feet, shoulders and chest. A giant panda can grow close to six feet long and weighs about 300 pounds. They are as big as the black bear. These animals have large heads with rounded ears. Their eyes have slit pupils. They have chubby cheeks with strong jaws and teeth with large, sharp molars for crushing bamboo stalks. Pandas have flexible front paws with a sixth digit that works like a human thumb to allow the panda to handle bamboo stems, leaves and stalks with a bit of ease. The panda’s back feet lack the pad found in other bears, giving them a clumsy walk. According to Kallen (1998, 6), their large furry paws act like snowshoes and enable them to manoeuvre through snow, rough terrain and dense forests with ease. Their hairy double coats keep them warm and dry in the mountains. A layer of short, thick fur is covered by another layer of long and coarse hair that is a bit oily, and thus water resistant. The giant panda has a lifespan of about 20 to 30 years, 20 in the wild and 30 in captivity. Pandas are an endangered species. There are only about 700 pandas left in the wild and another 120 living in zoos, mainly in China
Wildlife Ecology: The Giant Panda
The home of the pandas is almost idyllic (Angel, 1998, 27). These animals live in comfortable forests where temperatures are neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter. These forests have a rich coverage of coniferous, deciduous broadleaf trees and Fargesia bamboo groves. During winter, pandas prefer deciduous broadleaf forests with heights of between 1600m to 1800m and south facing slopes of 10 to 20 degrees. Here they habitat in the Bashaina Fargesii bamboo forests with short and dense culms. Research conducted by Liu, Toxopeus, Skidmore, Shao, Dang, Wang and Prins, has shown that during summer, they move to coniferous forests with heights of between 2400m and 2600m and slopes of 20 to 30 degrees. Here, they habitat in the Fargesia qinligensis bamboo area with tall and thick culms (Liu, Toxopeus, Skidmore, Shao, Dang, Wang & Prins, 2005, 1623-1632). Generally, these areas have a dense cover of bamboo forest at heights of between 500 and 10, 000 feet, are characterized by heavy torrential rains and thick and dark clouds and are also distant from human activities. Giant pandas make their dens out of hollow logs or stumps of conifer trees that are located within the forest. Before extensive logging and deforestation in China, giant pandas lived in many lowland areas in China’s interior. Today, they have been displaced to the remote, mountain regions of central China.
Giant pandas are mainly found in the remote mountain areas of central China. There is enough evidence to prove that they are found in the Qinling area of Shaanxi Province in the high mountain areas of Gansu and Sichuan Provinces and Qingzang Plateau (Lindburg & Baragona, 2004, 137). According to Lindburg and Baragona, the development of human settlements and introduction of large-scale logging over the years has led to fragmentation of the panda habitat into five major mountain divisions; namely: Qingling, Mishan, Qionglai, Xiangling and Liangshan (Lindburg and Baragona, 2004). The result is that giant pandas have gradually been forced to retreat to the mid-elevations of these mountain ranges leading to an ecological separation of the different panda populations. Currently, the giant panda species is isolated to around twenty secluded patches of bamboo forest in these areas. The Chinese government and other conservationists who safeguard these species are making extensions of these areas and introducing new reserves to cater and care for these animals. There’s only a few left in the whole world after all.
A wild panda’s diet is almost purely bamboo. Haugen (2012) states that there are more than 20 kinds of alpine bamboo. They eat the entire plant including the stalks, leave and shoots. An adult panda consumes about 26 to 88 pounds of bamboo each day. This includes about 88 pounds (40 kg) of fresh bamboo shoots, 31 pounds (14 kg) of bamboo stalks and 44 pounds (20 kg) and bamboo leaves. He goes further to conclude that the panda’s throat and stomach must have a thick and strong lining that protects it from being bruised by the sharp bamboo. In summer, pandas have a greater appetite than in winter. Pandas also feed on fruits, vegetables, rodents and grasses (Haugen, 2012, 5).
Giant pandas in zoos feed on sugarcane, bamboo, musk deer fawns, rice gruel, high-fibre biscuits, apples, carrots and sweet potatoes. As members of the carnivorous family, giant pandas have a digestive system similar to that of bears and other predatory animals. However, they have changes over time to a vegetarian diet of bamboos and grasses. They can, therefore, be classified as omnivorous. This foraging, according to Jessica Rothman (2013), helps supplement their nutritional needs, mixing dietary nutrients to meet a full complement of nutrients. Lindburg and Baragona (2004) conclude that due to the differences in types of bamboos, pandas display varying feeding behaviours. From November to May. Pandas in the Qingling Mountains feed on the Bashania bamboo leaves. In May, they primarily feed on Bashania shoots. In June, they move up to about 2300 metres to F. qinligensis. During summer, they mainly feed on middle sections of young bamboo stems but during September and October, they prefer new branches and young leaves. This adaptation to bamboo, however, has put them at risk of extinction and exposed them to vulnerabilities of loss of habitat. This is because they are often living in areas where bamboo is abundant.
Giant pandas are solitary animals and live almost entirely alone for most of their lifetimes. Male pandas and female ones hardly interact except during the mating season. During this time, males may also meet in the vicinity of a female, when they want to show dominance. A recent study of radio-collared pandas in Qingling Mountains, however, suggested a different picture. The study by Pan Weshi and Lu Zhi of the Beijing University revealed that seven to fifteen individual pandas may form a social community of pandas. They occupy a ‘group’ territory, whereby male home ranges overlap more than female home ranges. Members of different groups avoid socializing (Kleiman, 2015). These findings have stemmed a new question altogether: whether mating takes place exclusively within members of these small groups or not. During mating, female pandas see out specific males, preferably those they have known for a long time. They use a series of intricate vocalizations and behaviours to seek the preferred male. These complex actions have been attributed to the dense habitat in which these species live and the low level of sociality.
Visual interactions are extremely rare due to the dense bamboo thickets that restrict visibility. Massive cheek teeth and masseter muscles also make mouth, ear and eye movements impossible. Kleiman (2015) documents that during social interactions, giant pandas use sounds and vocalizations impressively. The scent is also a great tool for communication. They rub the fat gland that shelters their anogenital region on objects at the edge of their territorial land. Soon, a thick, waxy and strong smelling deposit builds up and acts as a territorial mark. Sometimes, both male and female pandas may urinate on the marked sites. Scent marks are a nose level higher, and giant pandas utilize scent marking postures to deposit secretions at different heights. Sometimes, they perform handstands and raise their posteriors to make elevated scent inscriptions. Using their strong sense of smell, giant pandas can identify the age, sex orientation and identity of the scent maker. Amazingly, they can also determine the mood and reproductive status of the panda that made the mark, at the time the mark was made. Remarkably, these creatures can accomplish what visual and auditory feature can using only scent and smell (Kleiman, 2015).
Giant pandas have a unique mating system. The system varies among different pairs; in some pairs, mating occurs only once, and the female becomes pregnant, while, in others, copulation may occur severally during the day, for two to three days. Kleiman notes that female pandas will be first in heat at the age of 6.5 years old and don’t reproduce until they are 7.5 years old. At this age, they have achieved sexual maturity. However, young and inexperienced females also show a high maternal determination to know how to care for their offspring. This is important since no breeding season goes wasted due to poor parenting. After courting, mating of giant pandas takes place in the mountain regions or the fields. A male seeks out females that are on heat, and associates with it for about 2 to 4 days. Mating takes place in spring, between March and May. During this time, females conceive in their two to three day oestrous period. After that season, they no longer show any signs or interests in mating.
According to Kleiman (2015), males are sexually active for a longer time in spring and may copulate with two or more females. Giant pandas also exhibit ‘delayed implantation’, whereby the fertilized egg does not instantaneously implant into the mother’s uterus wall. Instead, it floats around the panda’s reproductive region for some period. As a result, it’s not clear as to exactly how long the giant panda’s gestation period is. But from observations made, it’s estimated at between 95 to 160 days. After 3 to 5 months of pregnancy, the giant panda mother looks for a dark, wind-free cave to rear her offspring. It makes a bamboo bed of dry leaves. Newborn cubs are vulnerable and especially with their eyes closed. The newborn is weak and slim, has a red body thinly covered with white hair and weighs about 36 to 200 grams. This is a very premature delivery.
According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (2015), the timing of the reproduction of the giant panda is determined by the status of weaning cubs in the spring season. At this time, there is plenty of new protein filled bamboo shoots. These shoots are an essential diet for the cubs and provide better nutritional quality for their growth. Low energy bamboo diet prevents giant pandas from devoting a lot of energy to lactation. In fact, giant pandas have the least sized newborns of any non-marsupial mammals. These newborns grow very slowly and weigh only about 4 to 6 ounces at birth and about 75 pounds at one year of age. This growth is slower in the wild. According to Sekar (2014), eating plenty of bamboos during pregnancy helps the panda mother store nutritional supplies for delivery and raising the cub. In the cave of delivery, it breeds the cub intently, only walking out occasionally. At one month, the mother will go out to get food and drink, but it soon returns to the cave to check on the cub.
Research conducted by the World Wildlife Fund also indicates that, the mother panda holds the cub in her arms always, to warm it, kiss and lick it until it’s able to walk by itself. At three months, the cub can walk and has eyesight. In the next spring season, it’s almost weighing about 13 kg. It begins to learn how to feed on bamboos and live alone. Sometimes, it drinks milk for nutrition. After one and a half years of age, the cub weighs about 50-70 kg. It’s during then that it moves away from its mother and starts to live solitarily. Giant pandas begin to breed late and rear just a single cub every two years. In her lifetime, and usually by the time she is considered old (at 20-22 years of age for most pandas), a female may have reared about seven cubs.
Lippe (2008) states that the giant panda is enlisted under first category of the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Law (1998) and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). There are a number of factors that have led to the decline in panda populations in China. These factors include poaching, habitat loss due to logging, inbreeding and low reproduction rates. Poaching of pandas has been largely controlled over the years. The issues being tackled as of now involve restoring their habitat. Considerations had been made about cloning the giant panda, but have long been abandoned. Captive breeding has been introduced in several areas. But according to Lü, Wang, & Garshelis (2008), reintroduction of these captive pandas is limited by lack of adequate habitats and release sites with few or no pandas. This may be necessary to avoid possible disease transmission and social disruptions of the wild populations.
In the past ten years, conservation efforts have received a lot of support from the international community. Even so, the giant pandas population continues to diminish, and recent efforts in captive breeding have not helped in curbing this problem. Giant pandas are still being poached to date; illegal logging still goes on in their habitats and the local people keep encroaching on what’s left of their habitats.
According to WWF, there are only about three million hectares of giant pandas habitat in China. They are divided into secluded patches, most in central China. In 2004. It was discovered that there were only about 1600 pandas in the wild, fragmented to less than twenty populations. The WWF protection network and the Chinese government have introduced about sixty reserves, forest farms and managed corridors that cover almost seventy percent of the panda habitat and about eighty percent of the panda population in the wild. These networks will facilitate the protection status of these endangered species and help increase their population numbers. A recent survey by WWF showed that the giant pandas population has increased by about 18 percent in the last decade since 2003 from 1600 to 1864 pandas. Before 2003, there were only about 1000 pandas in the wild. Today, about 67 percent of the giant pandas now live in reserves
Giant pandas are interesting mammals. They are a rare species, a national treasure of China and should be guarded against extinction. These animals are part of the culture of the Chinese nation and converge different people from all over the world to come and observe them. People should be discouraged against harming their habitats and food, and also from poaching them. In respect to that, the WWF has come up with several ways of protecting these animals and giving them a chance to survive against all odds. It’s crucial that these conservation measure be taken up by every nation and people, to help sustain the ecology system of not only these animals, but also other endangered ones too.
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