Giant pandas, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, are mammals located in the south-central region of China. They have black and white coated chubby bodies. In Chinese, giant pandas are known by the name Dàxióngmāo, which means “large bearcats”.

They are loved all around the globe and are considered the national treasure of China. The name giant panda is given to differentiate them from close relatives, red pandas. Giant pandas have a great significance to World Wild Fund (WWF) as it has been their logo since 1961.

Some specification regarding pandas is given below:

Population in wild: 1,864

Height: 4 ft (Adults)

Weight: 220-330 lbs.

Habitat: Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests of southwest China

Status: Vulnerable

They are folivore i.e., their diet is entirely based on bamboos shoots and leaves. However, in captivity, they may be fed with bananas, fish, honey, eggs, yam, and shrubs along with a prepared diet. They eat 9-12 kgs of bamboo in a day. Eating and sleeping make up most of the day for pandas. Pandas reach sexual maturity at 20 years of age. The mating season is from March to May when female pandas are in estrous. The length of gestation period is 95 to 160 days. The newborn is known as Cub. In a twin pregnancy, usually, one cub survives as the mother only selects a stronger one.

There are some interesting facts regarding enlisted below: 

  1. 1 panda year is equal to 3 human years. The oldest panda in history was Xinxing in Chongqing Zoo, who died at 38 years which means 115 years. 
  2. Pandas have 6 fingers. 6th one acts like a thumb to grasp bamboo while eating. 
  3. They can climb up the trees, to avoid predators.
  4. Pandas love to live alone. In wild, they have their enclave and don’t even allow other pandas to “invade their privacy”.
  5. The digestive system of panda digests as low as 20% of the bamboo, which provides low energy. Hence, they must eat a lot of bamboos to get the required energy. Consequently, they excrete about 28 kgs of dung every 20-30 minutes!

But why Panda is an endangered animal? The answer to this can be divided into 2 points:

  1. Loss of habitat and poaching 
  2. Low reproductive rate 

This resulted in the drop in population to about 1800 in wild. To conserve this endangered species, China has been doing efforts. In July 2009, the first cub was born via artificial insemination using frozen semen. China have introduced nature reserves systems and captive breeding programs to protect the remaining population of pandas. WWF has played a crucial role in their conservation. They collaborated with the government on saving pandas as well as their habitat. 

Parasites as a challenge to conservation of giant pandas

Primarily, starvation was the main cause of the death of the panda. In recent decades, pandas living in the wild have encountered a wide range of parasites that pose a serious threat to their health. Hard ticks are the most common ectoparasites of pandas. So far, 13 genera of ticks have been identified that infest pandas including Haemaphysalis species, Ixodes species, and Dermacentor species, which were identified from rescued, dead, and wild pandas. Haemaphysalis flava is the most reported tick. There has been no report of tick-borne diseases and mortality. They only cause dermatitis and weight loss. In captivity, ivermectin is used to treat infested pandas. 

Roundworm, Baylisascaris schroederi, lives in the intestinal tract of the adult panda. If the worm load increases, they block the fecal passage and can cause serious consequences. The larvae hatching from eggs, may migrate to different organs and create tracks and inflammations in different organs. The pandas infected with B. schroederi also drop off the eggs in feces and spread the infection to other pandas. An example of a panda visiting a neighboring mountain can be coated. If we suppose that the panda community in that mountain has no history of infection. But the infected panda visits and drops off feces loaded with parasitic eggs. The eggs will pass on to a new host (panda) on eating contaminated bamboo. Other nematodes, cestodes, flies, and mites have also been reported.  

The control of parasitic diseases is significant to ensure the integrity of giant panda conservation programs. The pandas in captivity should undergo routine deworming to get rid of any parasite if present. Routine disinfection of the environment and proper disposal of fecal material helps to purify the surroundings. However, the control of parasites in wild is a bit difficult, as it requires complete profiling of ecology and host-parasite interface. The aforementioned protocols are the only possible way to overcome the parasites problem. Vaccination is a considerable way to control the spread of various diseases. But in the case of parasitic diseases, vaccination is not possible due to highspeed genetic variations in parasites. Thus, maintaining a hygienic environment inside and outside the pandas is the only way to ace through parasitic endemicity.


Dr. Akasha Tanveer (DVM, MPhil Parasitology, UAF)