Giant Panda of Sichuan

Male Giant Panda “Tai Shan” (*2005) at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. photon by Fernando Revilla distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

The first specimen of a Giant Panda came to Europe in 1869.  Armand David, a Christian missionary, was posted to Beijing, China. David was also a naturalist, and he collected many specimens to send back to the Museum of Natural History in Paris. While stationed in Sichuan, hunters in his employ brought him the body of a young black and white bear. He dutifully sent the skin back to Paris, and in his letter with another naturalist he remarked “I have not seen this species in the museums of Europe and it is easily the most pretty I have come across; perhaps it will turn out to be new to science!”



It took a long time, before further examples of Giant Pandas came to light, and it wasn’t until 1936 that the first Panda was displayed outside of China in a zoo [ref] [/ref].

While distance and communication was difficult in the ancient world, leading to distortions, such as the possibility the Indian rhinoceros was a unicorn, the Giant Panda did not seem to be well known inside China either. Chinese art depicting Giant Pandas was very rare before the 20th century. [ref] [/ref]

Modern scholars also have difficulty identifying the Giant Panda in ancient Chinese texts. There are three names that are strong possibilities, Pixiu, Mo and Zhouyu, though none can be definitively stated as referring to a Giant Panda. [Ref] Betty Peh-Ti Wei,  Through Historical Records And Ancient Writings In Search Of The Giant  Panda Originally published in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch vol. 28 (1988) [/Ref] Mo in some texts refers to a bear from Sichuan that ate bamboo and plantain, but was black and yellow. In other texts however, Mo refers to a grey and white animal that corresponds with the tapir from Malaysia.

Even though habitat destruction made the Panda an endangered species, they may never have been a commonly distributed animal. Giant pandas are solitary creatures, coming together only to mate. They live in wet bamboo forests, and primarily feed on just two species of bamboo [ref] [/ref] Researchers have found they need an individual territory of 114.7 km [ref] [/ref] Due to habitat loss there are certainly fewer areas now for the Panda to live, but they may never have had a huge range to begin with. The ancestors of Pandas may have lived across Europe, 5 million years ago, but no longer remained after the temperature grew cooler, and China could have been the only suitable habitat. [ref] [/ref] Still, like every creature in the world, we need to do what we can to ensure their continued existence.


Baby Panda – photo by AgnosticPreachersKid distributed under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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