Giant pandas may be unknowingly contributing to their place on the endangered species list. Female pandas are able to mate only two or three days per year and some males don't know how to do the deed. Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, a pair of pandas who live together at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. haven't naturally conceived a cub in thirteen years. Says David Wildt, the head of the Center for Species Survival at the zoo, "Rather than pulling Mei Xiang toward his lap, Tian Tian steps on her back and stands there like a man who has just opened a large box from Ikea and has no idea what to do next."
Pandas grow from tiny to massive in a few short years.
Pink, blind and hairless, panda infants weigh just three to five ounces and have been compared in size to a stick of butter. But within a year, pandas tip the scales at around 100 pounds; fully mature pandas can be up to six feet long and reach 350 pounds.
The U.S. pays big bucks to rent pandas from China.
Zoos in just four U.S. cities—Atlanta, Washington, D.C., San Diego, and Memphis—house giant pandas, and they pay a hefty rental fee to the Chinese government. According to the New York Times, American zoos generally pay $1 million a year in fees as part of a typical ten-year contract.
Giant pandas are technically carnivores, but their diets consist nearly exclusively of bamboo. Because the plant lacks much nutritional value, pandas eat up to 85 pounds of bamboo a day to maintain their energy levels and can scarf down a shoot in about 40 seconds. (Don't worry, their throats have a special lining to protect against splinters.) But all that fiber has side effects: An adult panda can produce more than 60 pounds of droppings in 24 hours.
Unlike other members of the bear family that have little or no dexterity in their paws, pandas have opposable "thumbs," along with five other fingers, that help them hold bamboo and remove the plant's stems and leaves before eating.