The giant panda is threatened with extinction. Only about a thousand survive in the wild in China, about half of them protected in reserves. In an effort to save this remarkable species, the government of China and the World Wildlife Fund began cooperative research in 1980. The Giant Pandas of Wolong is not only the first report of this joint venture but also the first detailed account of the panda's natural history. It describes the environment, distribution, life cycle, and daily and seasonal activities of pandas in the wild.Although giant pandas have few natural enemies, the periodic die-off of bamboo, their main food, threatens their survival. In order to understand the panda's vital link to bamboo, the research team has explored many aspects of the animal's life, collecting information on both wild and captive pandas. Though a herbivore, the panda retains the simple digestive tract of a carnivore. Unable to digest cellulose in plants, it receives relatively little nutrition from the bamboo it eats. As a result, it must eat many kilograms of bamboo each day, foraging for fourteen hours or more throughout a day and night.Known to the Chinese for several thousand years as daxiongmao, "large bear-cat," the giant panda has defied easy classification. The authors review anatomical, biochemical, behavioral, and paleontological evidence, concluding that the animal is neither bear nor raccoon but belongs in a separate family, perhaps with the small red panda.The giant panda has captured the imagination of the public more than any other animal. By presenting their groundbreaking and crucial research to the public, the authors of The Giant Pandas of Wolong hope to spur further research and action that will help this precious animal survive.
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