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What are the Different Panda Species?

Matthew F.
Matthew F.

There are only two different panda species in the world, the giant pandas and the red pandas. Despite their common name, the two are not scientifically related to each other. They live in roughly the same geographic area and have a similar diet; both are also dwindling in terms of their population numbers. The giant panda is actually a species of bear, and as a result is known in some places as a “panda bear.” These animals can be quite large and are very distinctive in coloring: they are primarily white with large black patches around their eyes, on their ears, and across other portions of their bodies. As the red panda’s name suggests, these creatures tend to take on a more rust color, and are considerably smaller. In most cases they resemble domestic cats in both size and agility, and tend to live in rockier, more mountainous terrains. The two rarely if ever come into contact with each other in the wild.

Animal Basics

Giant panda in a tree.
Giant panda in a tree.

Both animals are native to Central Asia, but their distribution areas tend to be a bit different. Researchers believe that the bears exist only in a few isolated bamboo forests in south-central China. The red versions also live in this part of China, but their habitat also branches out also westward across Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The name “panda” is believed to come from the Nepalese word “ponya,” which means “bamboo” — and indeed, bamboo is the primary food source for both creatures. This is one way of explaining the common name. In most other respects, the animals are very different.

Giant Panda Facts

Red panda climbing on a branch.
Red panda climbing on a branch.

The giant panda is known scientifically as Ailuropoda melanoleuca, and molecular studies have shown that it is a true bear and part of the Ursidae family. It is widely regarded as one of the gentlest bears, and it is predominantly an herbivore, which may explain its general lack of aggression.

A giant panda’s average height is usually somewhere between five and six feet high (152.5-183 cm), roughly the height of an average human. They tend to weigh a lot more, though, with bears regularly weighing more than 200 pounds (about 91 kg). The bears are a really important part of Chinese culture and it is believed that pandas were once the most treasured animal in the in the emperor’s garden of exotic animals.

Pandas eat bamboo.
Pandas eat bamboo.

Bears will typically consume nearly 80 pounds (36.4 kg) of bamboo each day, which does place a certain limitation on their habitat. In short, they need to live where the forests are rich and dense, and where there is always a steady supply of food. They have also been known to eat small rodents and other animals when food is scarce; honey, eggs, fish, and fruits like oranges and bananas are sometimes also consumed when they are available. The animals will typically spend around 16 hours a day just eating. This sort of panda has a paw consisting of a thumb and four fingers, and the thumb’s only essential duty is to hold bamboo while eating. The animals are also climbers and, despite their weight and size, can often scale to great heights; the thumbs can also help in this endeavor, at least when it comes to gripping and pulling

Red Panda Differences

Pandas sometimes eat bananas.
Pandas sometimes eat bananas.

Red pandas carry the scientific name Ailurus fulgens, and are not bears at all. They look something like a cross between a cat and a fox and are about the size of both of those animals, though many people do think that they have a certain bear-like appearance, at least in the face. Their average height is roughly 24 inches (61 cm), and at their heaviest they weigh in around 13 pounds (5.9kg). They typically have long, bushy tails that they use both for balance when climbing and swinging through the trees and to keep themselves warm while sleeping.

Both giant pandas and red panda bears can be found in China.
Both giant pandas and red panda bears can be found in China.

The red panda is also native to China, though it is also commonly found in Bhutan, Nepal, and parts of northern India. These animals are typically found on steeper slopes of the Himalayan Mountains rather than in the lowland bamboo groves that the bears prefer, and they tend to favor dense coniferous forests. Like the giant panda, the majority of the red panda’s diet consists of bamboo, though they’ll also eat berries, mushrooms, acorns, and a variety of grasses.

Threats to Habitat and Survival

Populations of both panda species are considered threatened, but to different degrees. Giant pandas are widely classified as “endangered,” and their population in the wild is widely estimated to be below 1,600. Many different zoos and nature preserves have spent tremendous time and money trying to help the species grow with the intention of boosting the populations that roam China freely, but the problem is a very complicated one. Habitat loss is a major piece of the puzzle.

Red pandas are classed by wildlife groups as “vulnerable,” and their population numbers are estimated at around 10,000 in the wild. The main threats to their survival are human development and land use as well as trapping: the red panda is often trapped and killed in devices meant for other animals entirely. In some cases they are also hunted for their fur, which is sometimes coveted for clothing and accessories.

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Discussion Comments


I love red pandas! Red Pandas and Big Pandas are beautiful and deserve to be in their natural home! It is said that most of them are in zoos! It is very sad and disappointing that most of them are locked up!


I think that this website should just name the panda breeds like giant panda

or red panda.


One of my best memories was seeing red pandas in the zoo, as they were so cute and playful. I really loved seeing them wander around, though I do think they are a bit put off by people watching them. The red pandas I saw looked a bit like they were scowling all the time.

It really is sad to me that endangered pandas can only be seen in the zoo. I would love going into the wild and actually see one of the endangered panda species in their natural habitat. While my pandas pictures are good, I think they would be much better if I couldn't see fence in them.


@letshearit - What you and your class could do if you want the panda, as an endangered species, is to donate to something like the World Wildlife Fund, or adopt a panda from your local zoo. A lot of these programs offer you the opportunity to hold fundraisers on behalf of their programs.

One of the first things you should do is choose the species of panda you want to cover. I personally love the Giant Panda, and think that would be a fun thing to help out. You could then throw a panda themed party with funds going to your program of choice. It would certainly make for a memorable learning experience.


Does anyone know how you can help endangered panda species?

I work with an English class and they are really looking into doing a project where they can help something like endangered pandas or endangered turtles. While I like the idea of studying sea turtles, I think that researching about pandas will give my class a lot more insight into environmental destruction.

We were thinking of perhaps volunteering at a zoo or maybe donating to a charity that could make some real difference with panda preservation. We want to make sure that whatever we end up choosing for our project offers us time to really be active.

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    • Giant panda in a tree.
      Giant panda in a tree.
    • Red panda climbing on a branch.
      Red panda climbing on a branch.
    • Pandas eat bamboo.
      By: WONG SZE FEI
      Pandas eat bamboo.
    • Pandas sometimes eat bananas.
      By: Nikolai Sorokin
      Pandas sometimes eat bananas.
    • Both giant pandas and red panda bears can be found in China.
      By: pavalena
      Both giant pandas and red panda bears can be found in China.