Giant pandas are big fluffy balls of fun and one of the most universally loved animals around, so it’s no wonder they have their own special day!
Yet due to habitat loss and fragmentation, pandas are sadly considered to be a vulnerable species and require dedicated conservation to preserve their numbers. National Panda Day is dedicated to celebrating these quirky creatures and spreading awareness of the threats they face in order to encourage efforts to protect them.
History of National Panda Day
The panda has been around for almost 20 million years and is the oldest living species of bear. Yes, that’s right, any rumors you’ve heard to the contrary about them not being bears is false – they are in fact part of the Ursidae (bear) family, although they do also have a fair amount in common with raccoons.
While pandas have long been respected in their native China, their shy and solitary nature means they feature rarely in Chinese history and art – the likelihood of coming across one bear, let alone an embarrassment of pandas (the excellent collective noun for these animals!), has always been slim. Yet with their clumsy and lovable character, they’re incredibly popular, so much so that back in the 1980s a Taiwanese zoo even painted a sun bear black and white to try and pass it off as a giant panda!
National Panda Day grew out of the need to help protect these beautiful bears, as sadly these big guys require conservation efforts to even have a chance at recovering from their current depleted state. With no more than 2-3,000 left in the wild and only a few hundred in captivity, we risk losing these precious mammals forever if we don’t act.
National Panda Day aims to promote efforts to preserve their habitat from threats such as urbanization and climate change and to support their protection all around the world. Ultimately it’s a day of hope, as panda numbers are gradually starting to increase again thanks to decades of conservation work, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgrading the species from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ in 2016.
If we all work together, we can continue these amazing advancements and ensure that the panda is safe and thriving, now and in the future.
Why pandas need our protection
Pandas are sensitive creatures and disruptions to their environment (a mere six mountain ranges in south-central China) can lead to survival and reproductive issues.
These cuddly little tumblers are well-known for their prodigious appetites, consuming massive amounts of bamboo each day. Although they evolved to eat meat, these bears are by and large vegetarian and therefore have to eat vast quantities of foliage to obtain sufficient energy and nutrients.
They are also notoriously bad at reproducing, with female pandas fertile for no more than two to three days a year. Little success has been had in captivity, although things have been improving in recent years. Still, they aren’t prone to giving birth very often, and this means that any loss to their numbers is potentially tragic.
Man-made threats such as farming and road building only exacerbate these vulnerabilities, shrinking and fragmenting the habitat on which pandas depend. Climate change is also causing bamboo to grow higher up the mountains, steadily reducing the amount available overall. Not only will pandas increasingly struggle to feed themselves, but habitat loss will also make it harder for them to find mates and reproduce.
And it’s not just important to preserve the panda population for their own sake. They’re also vital for maintaining the ecosystem around them, helping forest vegetation to flourish and in turn other species in the area.
How to Celebrate National Panda Day
Well, obviously your first stop should be the zoo! Due to their low numbers, there aren’t a whole lot of zoos that have giant panda exhibits, but hopefully, you’ll be able to find one relatively close to home. If you are lucky enough to be near one, then this will be a great opportunity to learn more about these cuddly bears and contribute to vital conservation efforts. And if the stars align you might even get to see some adorable and rare panda cubs!
If conservation is a cause close to your heart, then take some time to make a donation to a charity, zoo, or nature reserve that supports this important work. You can even adopt one of these cute creatures through organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which famously features a panda as its logo.
Be sure to look into getting some panda souvenirs such as cuddly toys, artwork and accessories, especially if a percentage of the profits go towards protecting the panda. You can also buy panda-themed items for your desk or wear panda-themed clothes to really help spread awareness of this fragile species.
If you fancy channeling your inner panda and conserving your energy, then why not crash out on the sofa and watch a documentary or film about these amazing animals? Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda franchise is especially popular, with three feature films, various shorts, and a TV series following the adventures of Po Ping, a typically clumsy giant panda who eventually blossoms into a kung fu master. There are also plenty of great documentaries available, such as Born in China and Pandas, for you to brush up on your panda facts.
Get swept up in pandamania and help make sure they’re munching on bamboo for many more years to come!