Giant Panda History

The Giant Panda is also known as the 'Panda Bear', 'Bamboo Bear', or in Chinese as 'Daxiongmao', which means 'large bear cat'. The scientific name (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) means 'black and white cat-footed animal'. As for the history of the Giant Panda, it is said that the earliest appearance of the Panda was somewhere between the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene periods - 2 to 3 million years ago.

Panda fossils have been discovered in the areas of Burma and Vietnam and in particular, East China, as far north as Beijing. In the second century AD the Giant Panda was a rare and semi-divine animal inside China. In the Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), the emperor's garden, in what was then known as the capital - Xian, held nearly 40 rare animal species, of which the panda was the most highly treasured.

The Chinese poet Bai Juyi credited the panda with the mystical powers capable of warding off natural disasters and exorcising evil spirits. Panda skins appear scattered throughout Chinese imperial records, as gifts or tributes on great occasions of states.

The Giant Panda was totally unknown outside the secretive Middle Kingdom until the declining Qing Dynasty was slowly forced to open its doors to trade and Christianity towards the end of the 19th century. Christian missionaries played a major role in raising awareness of chinese wildlife to the western world. They collected plants and animals on their missions and introduced them to their native lands.

Scientists have debated for more than a century whether Giant Pandas actually do belong to the bear family or whether they are more related to the raccoon family or perhaps a separate family of their own. This is because the Giant Panda and its cousin, 'the Lesser' or 'Red Panda' (Ailurus Fulgens), share many characteristics with both bears and raccoons.

Recent DNA analysis indicates that Giant Pandas are most definitely of the bear species although different enough to be put into its own sub family. The red pandas are more closely related to raccoons. Giant Pandas are categorized in the bear family (Ursidae) while Red Pandas are categorized in the raccoon family (Procyonidae).


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