In 1869 Westerners got their first look at a giant Panda in his natural habitat in China, and for over 140 years the debate has raged on. Is it a bear or a raccoon? Little bear?? Big raccoon??
To complicate matters further, there are actually two species of Panda; the Giant Panda and the Red Panda.
Get a group of "experts" together and life can get very complicated.
Red Pandas tip the scale in the range of 7 to 14 pounds, while our friend the Giant Panda are more likely to weigh in around 200 pounds!
Here are some of the arguments used to flavor the debate.
Both giant and red pandas eat bamboo and grip it in the same manner. They also have a similar snout, teeth and paw features and as well as some resemblance. Where the giant panda is similar to a bear is in shape and size, shaggy fur, and he walks and climbs like a bear.
Well, apparently scientists have finally settled the dispute by testing the genes of a giant panda and determined that he is the rarest of bears.
They further state that the red panda (or lesser panda) is indeed in the raccoon family. End of debate. Seems silly to me that they had to convene all these so-called experts when all they had to do was ask any teddy bear collector. "Of course the Panda is a bear" would have been the response, loud and clear.
Now let's take a look at some of the vital statistics of the giant panda.
When born, the blind infants, weighing in the range of 5 ounces, are pure white and develop their unique color pattern much later. It's hard to believe this tiny creature will grow to a size of 4 or 5 feet and weigh up to 300 pounds when fully grown!
The average lifespan of a panda is approximately 20 years. Our beloved pandas are found in the wild only in China, where their vegetarian diet consists almost exclusively of bamboo. Because their digestive system cannot easily break down the cellulose in bamboo, they must eat huge amounts - as much as 83 pounds a day! It's no wonder they spend up to 14 hours each day eating.
Pandas differ from bears as we know them in that they do not hibernate.
While they are subject to the cold (they have little body fat for insulation), they simply move to a lower altitude in their mountain range to a warmer climate. They can move about from elevations as high as 11,500 feet down to a low range of 4,000 feet and still find their precious bamboo.
Unfortunately, a loss of their habitat to forests being cleared for agriculture and timber has reduced their population in the wild to only about 1,000 remaining, with perhaps 100 pandas living in zoos around the world.
The Chinese government has taken steps to turn this situation around.
About 40 years ago the World Wildlife Fund was invited to participate in a program of conservation, and an intensive research study was undertaken on wild panda ecology and behavior.
Just in the past 6 years, the World Wildlife Fund has trained more than 300 panda reserve staff, and the Chinese government has established 40 panda reserves.
There is another panda reserve that is of much more importance to teddy bear collectors. When we are attending a teddy bear show and we spot a delightful panda on an exhibitor's table, we are quick to say "Please reserve that panda for me!"
I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of teddy bear collections around the world do contain one or more of the species Panda-stuffed.