How big a mystery is it that giant pandas, which live in the wild and in captivity, have great hides?
At a swank event held in Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel last week to honor a giant panda that has spent years at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), a Pew Trust specialist explained the entire issue. I’m not going to ask you any questions! Maybe.
First off, let’s explain what are giant pandas — also known as furry little bears! — and why do they have great hides? Well, pandas are native to the mountains of Sichuan Province in China. If you’ve ever spotted a black-and-white bear — or a Chihuahua, or a dog — near some mountain range, it’s likely that you are seeing a giant panda. The animal, which has been captured between a species of toothless mountain kangaroo known as the Asian water bear, ate the kangaroo’s remains to survive, and thus has a white and black coat.
Pandas can’t be tracked down. A 95-percent mortality rate for their cubs has led scientists to speculate on what one factor could possibly be in the death of the young — such as mothers catching them from a nest that is pillaged. But author Ian Tattersall also posits that the pandas’ genetic makeup may actually be the reason they are black and white.
During the course of the event, Jennifer Tashjian, the senior curator at the Center for Conservation, explained that giant pandas have a special mutation that makes their teeth dark, rather than white like most carnivores. This mutation makes the body treat black teeth the same way a white one is treated — making them bigger.
Giant pandas don’t just live among the peaks of China — they are a truly international animal. Their sweat glands live on different continents, so pandas never have to fight as fiercely as we humans are supposed to do when it comes to temperatures. Their hair grows quickly, unlike that of a human, so they can move quickly (and indeed, their facial fur can measure up to over 3 feet long) while still keeping their fur moist.
When and how did we discover that giant pandas have great hides? Among other colleagues, another keeper at the center sought out several Chinese legends, which claim that black-and-white coat-removers are the marks of the moon god Chang’e. I don’t know if the giant panda has ever “seen the moon” — but I think it can say that it’s a darn pretty coat!