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1 - The giant panda as a social, biological and conservation phenomenon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2009

Susie Ellis
Affiliation:
Conservation International
Wenshi Pan
Affiliation:
College of Life Sciences
Zhong Xie
Affiliation:
Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens
David Wildt
Affiliation:
National Zoological Park
David E. Wildt
Affiliation:
Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington DC
Anju Zhang
Affiliation:
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Hemin Zhang
Affiliation:
Wildlife Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas
Donald L. Janssen
Affiliation:
Zoological Society of San Diego
Susie Ellis
Affiliation:
Conservation Breeding Specialist Group
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

The giant panda has captured the world's imagination. Its seemingly harmless, playful nature, velvety black and white fur, flat face, softly rounded body and soulful black eye patches combine to make it resemble an oversized and loveable teddy bear (Fig. 1.1). Its upright posture and famous ‘panda's thumb’ – an elongation of the wrist bone that allows it to grasp bamboo and other food much like people do – further adds to its widespread appeal. From the most prominent government authorities to young children, people are passionate about protecting the giant panda. This fervent interest has caused the panda to emerge as the most highly visible of all endangered species, even though few people have actually ever seen one in the wild. Furthermore, this single species has become a worldwide icon for the need to conserve animals, plants and habitats. Therefore, it is ironic that the giant panda, which evokes so much attention by the public, scientific and conservation communities, still remains such a mystery with so many pieces still missing from a biological jigsaw puzzle that, if solved, could improve species management, welfare and conservation. The purpose of this book is to provide, and then assemble, a few more pieces of this enormous puzzle.

WHY THE GIANT PANDA IS UNIQUE AMONG SPECIES, ESPECIALLY BEARS

Within China, the giant panda often is called daxiongmao by local people, literally ‘large bear-cat’ in Chinese (Schaller et al., 1985). Its scientific name Ailuropoda melanoleuca actually means black and white cat-footed bear.

Type
Chapter
Information
Giant Pandas
Biology, Veterinary Medicine and Management
, pp. 1 - 16
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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