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Best Places to See Giant Pandas

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Looking for the Best Places to See Giant Pandas?

Giant Pandas are adored worldwide, mainly for their black, white, and fluffy appearance and somewhat clumsy nature. These soft bears, native to China, are unfortunately endangered and have made it onto our list of the world’s most endangered bears.

This is mainly attributable to significant habitat destruction and loss experienced in the past few decades. This blog will give you a glimpse into the life of these adorable bears.

Key points

TopicKey Points
Appearance and Characteristics– Giant Pandas have distinctive black and white markings.
– They have black patches around eyes, ears, legs, and a band on their back.
– Their fur is coarse, dense, and helps them stay warm in cool climates.
– They move slowly and appear clumsy.
Food and Diet– Though classified as carnivores, pandas mainly eat bamboo.
– They consume around 25-40 pounds of bamboo daily.
– Occasionally, they eat other foods like fish, flowers, and small animals.
Sense of Smell– Pandas use scent marks for communication and territory marking.
– Scent helps determine gender, reproductive status, and recent activity.
Vocalizations– Pandas have diverse vocalizations for different situations.
– Cubs have limited initial vocalizations, develop more as they grow.
Reproduction– Breeding maturity at 4-8 years, low reproductive rate due to limited ovulation.
– Habitat fragmentation hampers breeding.
– Females give birth to 1-2 cubs, triplets are rare.
Habitat– Once widespread, pandas now limited to specific Chinese provinces.
– Threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation, and reduction in bamboo forests.
Current Status– About 1,864 wild pandas estimated in 2014, with 600 in captivity.
– Protected under U.S. ESA and CITES, conservation efforts ongoing.
Best Places to See Giant Pandas– Seeing wild pandas is rare; options include Natural Habitat Adventures, China Discovery, Wild China.

Appearance and Characteristics

Giant Panda
Scientific NameAiluropoda melanoleuca
Conservation StatusVulnerable
HabitatTemperate forests of China
DietPrimarily bamboo
Average Lifespan20-30 years
Adult Weight70-125 kg (154-276 lbs)
Body Length1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft)
Tail Length10-15 cm (4-6 in)
Gestation PeriodAbout 5 months
Cubs per BirthUsually 1 or 2
ActivityMainly crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk)
PredatorsFew natural Predators, mainly humans due to habitat loss and poaching

Giant Pandas are known worldwide for their unique black and white coat. They resemble other bears in their shape but have very distinctive and identifiable markings.

All Giant Pandas have black patches around their eyes and black ears on a white heads. Their legs are black, there is a black band across their backs, and their midsections are also white.

It is challenging to tell Giant Pandas apart since their markings are the same on all animals. However, caretakers in retaliation facilities can identify individual Giant Pandas by small markings around their mouths or muzzle.

Giant Panda fur coats are coarse, dense, and somewhat oily in texture. Their thick fur acts as a coat to keep them warm in the mountain forests’ cool, moist climate.

Unlike other bears, Giant Pandas are typically slow-moving and seldom move faster than a walk. They also endearingly as they appear clumsy in their movement.

Food and diet

YouTube video

Giant Pandas are formally classified as carnivores. However, their diet is, in fact, closer to that of herbivores. A Carnivore is an animal that eats mostly meat, and a herbivore is an animal that eats plants primarily- like in the case of Giant Pandas.

The Giant Pandas’ diet consists almost entirely of bamboo stalks, shoots, and roots, and they eat 25 to 40 pounds of these bamboo shoots per day. Their selection is broad, as there are about 25 different types of bamboo for them to enjoy.

When available, Giant Pandas will eat fish, flowers, and small animals- thus classifying them as carnivores, although this is pretty rare. In captivity, they also usually receive milk, eggs, ground meat, and specially formulated vitamin bread. Apples and carrots are a favorite treat for the Giant Panda in captivity.

Since the Giant Pandas’ digestive system is not very efficient, they must consume large quantities of bamboo every day to obtain the nutrition they need. Cubs are especially prone to digestive problems in their early months of life.

Pandas eat for up to 14 hours a day! Their unique paws allow them to hold the bamboo and bite the stalks. They generally eat sitting but also like to snack lying on their backs.

The puffy cheeks that make the Giant Pandas appear so adorable are powerful muscles that enable the Giant Pandas to chew through even the most rigid bamboo stalks. Unlike other bears, Giant Pandas do not store fat and therefore do not hibernate, and consequently, they are constantly in search of food.

One problem for wild Giant Pandas is that the bamboo species flowers and dies, and it then takes several years for the bamboo to recover. In the past, Giant Pandas would migrate to other areas in search of new plants. Now, with their range fragmented, this is often difficult and has led to their sad and steady decline in population.

Giant Pandas in the wild drink water from the rivers and streams in their surrounding mountain environment.

Sense of smell:

Panda Cubs

Giant Pandas leave scent marks in their territories as their scent marks serve as a significant form of communication.

Giant Pandas can determine from the scent if another Giant Panda is in the area if the other Giant Panda is male or female, how recently they left their mark, and, in the case of females, if they are in a reproductive period.

To mark their location, Giant Pandas will back up to a tree, rub their scent glands on it, and then use their tail to spread the scent. Some Giant Pandas, particularly males, will back up on the tree until they do a handstand to place their scent higher on the trunk.


Giant Panda

The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda has been working on a panda linguistics project since 2010.

Scientists first made recordings of pandas at the center, vocalizations between cubs and adults in various situations, such as eating, mating, nursing, fighting, etc.

In more recent research published in the fall of 2015, Researchers decoded up to 13 different kinds of giant panda vocalizations in a surprising new insight into the private life of the reclusive creatures. They collected a large amount of data on pandas’ voices and activities and analyzed the voiceprints.

Panda cubs can barely vocalize at all except to say things like “Gee-Gee” (I’m hungry), “Wow-Wow” (Not happy!), or “Coo-Coo” (Nice!).

When they grow a little, cubs learn how tpress themselves by roaring, barking, shouting, squeaking, bleating, and chirping. “If a panda mother keeps tweeting like a bird, she may be anxious about her babies. She barks loudly when a stranger comes near. The barking can be interpreted as “getting out of my place,” according to the researchers.

Pandas can be as gentle as a lamb when “in love.” Male pandas baa all the time when they are wooing their lovers. The females respond with a constant warble if they feel the same.

The researchers were so confused when they began the project that they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep.


Giant Panda

Breeding maturity in Giant Pandas is generally between four and eight years. Females produce only once a year in the spring. Giant Pandas tend to have a low reproductive rate, partly because the females only ovulate two out of three days a year.

In the wild, Giant Pandas use scent and calls to locate a mate during the reproduction period.

Fragmentation of the Giant Pandas’ habitat is a significant impediment to breeding. When towns, roads, and power lines prevent free movement from one area to another, the male Giant Pandas cannot reach the females.

Giant Pandas nest on the ground or in hollow trees, giving birth approximately 100 to 150 days after mating. Hollow trees are becoming scarcer, creating yet another problem for breeding.

Females give birth to one or two cubs, and triplets are extremely rare. If twins are born, usually only one survives in the wild. The mother will select the stronger of the cubs, and the weaker will die. It is thought that the mother cannot produce enough milk for two cubs since she does not store fat.

Cubs will stay with their mothers for about two years. Therefore females only reproduce every other year or less.

Many zoos have tried to breed Giant Pandas but with limited success. The breeding centers in China use both natural mating and artificial insemination and have become much more successful in the past few years.


Panda in a tree

The Giant Panda was once widespread in southern and eastern China, Vietnam, and Myanmar (Burma). Today the Giant Panda is limited to the mountains in a few Chinese provinces in southwestern China. Most of the Giant Pandas are in China’s Sichuan Province but also in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Their range is along the eastern rim of the Tibetan Plateau.

Giant Pandas do not have a permanent den and do not hibernate, and in the winter, they will seek shelter in hollow trees. Giant Pandas typically have a range of 4-7 km but can travel up to 10 km a day looking for food, water, and shelter.

The Giant Panda has lived for centuries in coniferous forests with dense undergrowth of bamboo at elevations of 5,000 to 11,000 feet. Rain or thick mist throughout the year shrouds these remote forests in heavy clouds. In the winter, snow is expected.

Today, these forests are under attack by dramatic increases in the human population. Agriculture, ranching, logging, trapping, and human settlement dramatically threaten their habitat. Previously, they lived at lower elevations, but farming and clearing of the forest have pushed them higher into the mountains.

The Giant Panda’s primary food source, bamboo, is decreasing. Bamboo grows under the shade cover of the giant fir trees. Logging and clearing the land for agricultural uses is a significant factor in reducing bamboo.

The impact of rapid population growth has seen the destruction of significant Giant Panda habitat. To defend the Giant Panda, the Chinese Government enforces a logging ban in the Giant Panda reserves.

The 8.0 earthquake of 2008 was in Sichuan Province, home to the Giant Pandas. The quake buried much of the Giant Pandas’ bamboo under tons and tons of rock and mud.

In the 1940s, the Chinese Government began conservation efforts to protect pandas. In 1963 the first panda reserve was established in southern China.  Pandas were classified as an endangered species in the 1980s.

Today there are 40 Giant Panda reserves in China. These reserves need to be connected via corridors to reduce the isolation and fragmentation of the Giant Panda population. Villages and human activities now block open ranges for migration, and the fragmentation of Giant Panda areas is a significant problem affecting mating.

Another problem related to the fragmentation of the Giant Panda areas is that the bamboo will flower and then die off about every 20 years.  When this occurs, the Giant Pandas need to migrate to a new location.  There have been reports of Giant Pandas starving when they cannot find bamboo in new places.

The destruction of the Giant Pandas’ natural habitat, the reduction in available bamboo forests, and expanding human populations are the main threats to the Giant Panda.

Current Status:

YouTube video

A study in 2014 by the Chinese Department of Forestry estimated the current population of the wild Giant Pandas at approximately 1,864. As of 2020, there are about 600 giant pandas in captivity, and giant pandas are on the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Animals.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects giant pandas and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  While hunting and poaching have been reduced due to strict laws by the Chinese Government, accidental capture of giant pandas in traps set for other animals still poses a severe problem.

The future of the giant panda is interwoven with the Chinese people. New advances in environmentally responsible farming, high-yield crops to reduce logging, and population control efforts will help the giant pandas. The Chinese Government also has several projects for reforesting hillsides, and protecting grasslands and nature reserves for the giant pandas.

There are also plans to pay farmers to turn cropland back into forests and to establish commercial tree farms to replace logging. Bamboo planting, in Sichuan Province, for the captive and wild pandas is an ongoing project.

Status Change – Some people have questioned the change in status of the giant pandas, by the IUCN, from Endangered to Vulnerable. Let us take this opportunity to say, on the one hand; this is cause for celebration, and it shows that with your support, progress is being made in panda conservation. 

The Chinese have been working since the 1960s to save their national treasure,, which affirms the efforts are paying off. The captive population is currently stable, as the number in captivity exceeds the number outlined in the Species Survival Plan.

That said…..there are still significant concerns, and we have NOT reached even modest goals in panda conservation.  The IUCN states that the vulnerable status is still at high risk of extinction in the wild.

What does it mean for Panda Conservation? Our greatest fear is public and our supporters will think the pandas are safe at present and become complacent, that is not the case. The pandas could rapidly slide backward if the Government or the public gets lax in conservation efforts.

This change may have many unintended consequences, including more human activity and trekking in their habitat. A recent International Conference on Panda Conservation published conclusions stating the giant panda is still endangered.

Summary of Best Places to See Giant Pandas

YouTube video

Seeing a giant panda in the wild is highly lucky and rare! Should you wish to encounter one of these unique bears in the wild or i rehabilitation facility, below are a few options for you. 

Natural Habitat Adventures 

China Discovery

Wild China

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Frequently asked Questions (FAQs)

How many giant pandas are still alive?

The exact number of giant pandas in the wild can vary due to ongoing conservation efforts and population surveys. As of 2021, it was estimated that there were around 1,800 wild giant pandas in China. In captivity, there were over 300 giant pandas, primarily located in specialized breeding centers and zoos.

Where are giant pandas found?

Giant pandas are native to China and are found in the mountainous regions of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. They inhabit temperate forests with dense bamboo undergrowth.

What is causing giant pandas to go extinct?

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities, such as deforestation and urbanization, have been major threats to giant pandas. Additionally, the low reproductive rate of pandas, their specific dietary requirements, and the challenges in breeding in captivity have contributed to their vulnerability.

Can pandas be aggressive?

While giant pandas are generally known for their docile and calm demeanor, they can exhibit aggression if they feel threatened or provoked. Like any wild animal, pandas have the potential to defend themselves if they perceive danger

Are pandas friendly to humans?

Pandas are wild animals and should be treated with caution and respect. While they might not generally show aggression toward humans, it’s important to remember that they are still bears and can react defensively if they feel threatened.

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