The Giant panda with his beguiling looks has found himself a place as an Ambassador of Friendship. However, all is not rosy, as the Giant panda is now in the endangered list.

Did you know that Giant pandas are also known as Ailuropoda melanoleuca? It can be found only in China and has long been regarded as China’s national treasure. The continued deterioration of their living environment has raised the global concern of conserving the Giant pandas. In 2009, only 1500 of them were left of which 80 per cent were distributed in the Sichuan province. A recent study has revealed that only as many as 293 pandas live in a captive environment.

They have been in existence for about thousands of years and were widely populated in 16 provinces and territories of eastern and southern China as well as in Vietnam and Burma. Today however, Giant pandas can only be found in some areas of the Tibetan Plateau and a few mountain regions. A Giant panda lives from about 15 to 19 years in the wild and can even live up to 30 years or longer under favourable captive conditions. And in an attempt to save these pandas, China set up its first nature reserve in 1963. By 2010, there were about 60 natural reserves set up.

Causes for species extinction

Even though plants and animals can adapt themselves to changes in nature if their occurrence is natural any drastic change can hamper them extensively. Serious damages to their habitats, invasion of alien species which occupy the habitats and natural resources, over hunting, pollution and global climate change are some of the reasons for their extinction.

Kai Kai and Xin Xin greet you as you enter the Seac Pai Van Park, Macau. The Macau Giant Panda Pavillion is set in a hill side, in a fan shaped layout of about 300 sq feet. It is designed to mimic nature. It combines the terrain’s natural lighting and architectural characteristics using streams, cascades, shrubs, trees and rocks for climbing. Pandas spend most of their time playing and nibbling on their food. It’s a visual treat to see them play, sleep and climb rocks.

Admission fee is required

Opening hours: 10:00 to 13:00; 14:00-17:00

Website: www.macautourism.gov.mo/en/

The writer was in Macau at the invitation of the Macau Tourism Board

How can you help save endangered species

In the Wild:

Do not take away or relocate any plant or animal, rock or shell or other natural objects because they may provide wild creatures with a favourable shelter or food source.

Don’t buy souvenirs made from wild animals

Be careful; not to cause a fire, as it may destroy the habitats and food sources of wild animals

Don’t feed wild animals, as it may cause illness.

Don’t litter because plastic bags and wrapping paper may choke the wild animals to death.

In our Daily life:

Reduce over-consumption. Only buy what you need.

Avoid using disposable products such as disposable plastic water bottles and food boxes.

Reduce pollution by travelling more on foot, by cycle or public transportation

Use your discretion and save energy — use air conditioners and fans depending on the need.

Ambassador of friendship

Their looks made them the most popular animals of the world. Since 1961 the World Wide Fund (WWF) has been using it as a symbol for protection of wild species. Giant panda also acts as China’s ambassador of Friendship for foreign- related activities. From 1957 to 1986 China sent nearly 23 of the Giant pandas as national gifts to nine countries including Russia, Korea, Japan and the U.S. As of March 2010, there are 33 Pandas kept in 12 zoos across the globe.

Know your Panda

Also known as hermits of the bamboo forest, they inhabit thick bamboo forests at an altitude of 2600 m.

They do not have a fixed resting place. They prefer to sleep in trees to avoid attacks from enemies and are ace climbers too.

Giant pandas hate the hot season and love the cool weather. Their most preferred temperature is between 8 to 23°.

Different from bears, Giant pandas do not hibernate. Even in the cold winters, they keep looking for food in the snow.

Ninety nine per cent of the food of wild Giant pandas consists of bamboo. They also eat grass, leaves and even the remains of animals. Giant pandas love to drink water which helps them digest food. In winter they break the ice that covers water bodies to get water. Sometimes they drink so much water that they are referred to as “drunken Giant panda”.

Observe a panda as it is eating bamboo. You will notice its peculiar thumb. You will see that one of the radio carpal bones of its claw is especially thick functioning like a thumb. They use their pseudo thumb to grab food.

They are so fussy that they choose the season’s most delicious bamboo to get the best nutrition needed for them.