Hunting For Giant Pandas in the United States
By Tom Samworth
The Giant Panda is an amazing creature. Amazing, in that it shouldn’t really exist. The Giant Panda doesn’t need help from the human race along the road to extinction, the species has a rough enough time carrying on as is.
The lovable looking black and white bear that lives naturally in a relatively small mountainous region in China is considered endangered by the World Conservation Union. There are around 1,600 of these animals in the wild and just another 300 around the world in zoos.
Why are there so few? A couple of 60 year old humans have probably better odds of reproducing. A female Giant Panda ovulates just once in a year and that lasts for two to three days. If she does happen to get pregnant, like a human, she will give birth to just one cub with the outside chance of twins. These cubs are then nursed by the mother for eight to nine months and stay with the mother for up to two years. This means the female is taken out of the baby making game for two to three years.
The good thing is, the lifespan is fairly long. A Giant Panda, in a zoo environment, has an expectancy of up to 35 years. These interesting creatures are no more ‘giant’ than a normal North American Black Bear with the males weighing up to 250 lbs in the wild and the females being a little smaller at up to 220 lbs.
What is different about these creatures is that they are technically carnivores. However, over time they have adapted to a mostly vegetarian diet. The Giant Pandas have a diet that consists of 99% bamboo. This results in another interesting quirk about these animals in that they poop up to 50 times per day in the wild. This makes it quite easy for the animals to be tracked.
Currently, there are just four locations in the United States that house Giant Pandas. Three of the four have been successful in breeding cubs over the past few years. One, Zoo Atlanta, helped produce twins in 2013, a rarity that hadn’t occurred in the U.S. Since 1987.
Smithsonian National Zoo – Washington, DC
The National Zoo houses two adult Giant Pandas and their cub that was born in 2013. Mei Xiang is the female, born July 22, 1998. The male is Tian Tian, born on August 27, 1997. Bao Bao was born on August 23, 2013.
This zoo is unique in that there are no entrance fees. However, being located on a 163 acre plot of land within Rock Creek National Park in the centre of Washington, parking may end of costing the same as general admission to some other zoos on the continent. The National Zoo is open daily, except for Christmas Day and is located directly north of the White House at 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. The zoo has been around since 1889 and currently houses around 2,000 animals from 400 different species.
San Diego Zoo
Also home to a family of three Giant Pandas, the San Diego Zoo, unlike the National Zoo, is not free to visit. Anyone 12 years of age or older will pay $48 to get through the front gates while children 3-11 will pay $38. However, those fees will get you into what is probably the world’s number one zoo.
San Diego is home to some elderly Giant Pandas that showed that the animals can breed well into their life’s journey. Bai Yun is the female and she was born in September, 1991 at a facility in Wolong, China. Gao Gao, the male, was rescued from the wild in the winter of 1992 at an age that was estimated at under a year old. Xiao Liwu was born July 29, 2012.
The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, just north of the downtown area. Founded in 1916, 3,700 animals from 650 species are housed at this 100 acre park. If visiting, there is also the affiliated San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located 30 miles from downtown, near Escondido. This is a 1,800 acre reserve that is home to 2,600 animals from 300 species and is focused on protecting native species.
A must for Panda lovers, Zoo Atlanta is home to four Giant Pandas, including twins that were born in 2013. Both the adults were born in 1997, Lun Lun is the female and Yang Yang is the male. On July 15, 2013, Lun Lun gave birth to Mei Lun and Mei Huan, both females. As mentioned earlier, twins hadn’t been born in the United States since 1987.
Zoo Atlanta was opened in 1889, the same year as the National Zoo in Washington. Located at 800 Cherokee Ave. SE, southeast of downtown Atlanta, the zoo houses 1,500 animals from 220 species on 40 acres of land.
This zoo is open everyday of the year, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Admission is half that of the San Diego Zoo with anyone 12 or older paying $22.99 and children 3-11 paying $17.99. The price gets even better when purchasing the CityPASS Atlanta package. In that package that provides close to 50% off for five great attractions in Atlanta, Zoo Atlanta is an alternate to the Atlanta History Center.
The Giant Pandas were almost taken from the Memphis Zoo in 2013. Le Le and Ya Ya have been on lease since 2003 from China. That ten year lease expired in 2013 but a ten year renewal was eventually negotiated. Le Le, the male, and Ya Ya, the female, have yet to have cubs.
The Memphis Zoo opened in 1906 and is located on 76 acres in Overton Park in midtown Memphis. The zoo is home to 3,500 animals from 500 species and was rated #1 zoo in the United States in 2008 by TripAdvisor. The zoo is open daily, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Adults pay $15 to enter while children pay $10 and seniors get in for a buck less than adults.
Tom is a content producer who specializes in the history of hockey and the hobby of hockey card collecting, along with aspects of the travel industry and photography. On the surface, the individual areas might seem unrelated but sports, travel and photography are simply a natural fit.
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