New Panda At San Diego Zoo

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The San Diego Zoo's Giant Panda Conservation and Research Program added a new member to their family recently.

Gao Gao, a giant panda, was caught 12 years ago in China and made a trip across the Pacific to the United States for (zoo officials hope) some California loving.

Dr. Don Lindburg, giant-panda team leader at the San Diego Zoo, says Gao Gao was born in the wild and is estimated to be between 11 and 13 years old. He was found in the forest of China with slight injuries — indicating that he was involved in a fight with another animal in the wild. He was taken out of China to help the Giant Research Station to continue its research.

The hope is that Gao Gao will naturally mate with the adult female, Bai Yun, to continue the study of giant panda's breeding behavior and the reproductive system.

The San Diego Zoo has hosted pandas since 1996 in a 12-year exchange program with China. Bai Yun was artificially inseminated in 1999 to create Hua Mei, another panda at the zoo.

Dr. Lindburg says, like the other pandas, Gao Gao eats bamboo (14 hours a day), apples, carrots and yams. When a panda lives in the wild, they only eat bamboo.

Since arriving at the zoo, Gao Gao has been very active, according to Dr. Lindburg. He spends most of his days eating and hanging around the bamboo. He also does a great deal of scent marking (marking his territory).

But the giant panda's future is still uncertain. The peaceful, bamboo-eating member of the bear family faces a number of threats. There are few pandas left in the world, and their numbers are dwindling because they are hunted in China for their skin.

Some Facts About Pandas

  • Weight: 165 to 353 pounds
  • Body length: 4 to 5 feet
  • Tail: 5 inches
  • Males are slightly larger than females. They have stronger forelegs, wider muzzles and are slightly heavier.
  • Pandas have stout, powerful limbs. Their hind feet lack a heel pad.
  • They have scent glands positioned under the tail.
  • Their head is relatively massive with well-developed chewing muscles. Unlike other bears, pandas have well-developed premolars; their molars are broad and flat and adapted to chewing bamboo
  • The digestive system is typical of a carnivore, only slightly adapted for processing bamboo: tough esophageal lining, pyloric region of stomach thick and muscular, small intestine shortened, colon surface area enlarged.
  • The giant panda's vision is poor. Their pupils have a vertical slit, like many nocturnal animals.
  • Their sense of smell is very good.
  • The giant panda's coat is thick and woolly.
  • Their striking coloration is thought to enable pandas to locate one another more readily in the dense bamboo forests; they can find each other during the breeding season and avoid each other the rest of the year

    Source: San Diego Zoo: Panda Central