Home » Wildlife » Giant pandas

Giant pandas

Giant panda, China
Scientific name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
Number remaining: 1,864
Extinction risk: Vulnerable
Habitat: mountain forests in south-central China

About giant pandas

This charismatic and universally-loved species – the symbol of our organisation – is one of the rarest and most endangered bears in the world.

It was once spread throughout China, northern Vietnam and northern Burma. But now the giant panda is found in the wild in just six isolated mountain ranges in Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces in south-central China.

This distinctive black and white creature typically leads a solitary life. Pandas are good swimmers and excellent tree climbers but they spend most of their time feeding – sometimes 14 hours a day eating mainly bamboo, which makes up 99% of their diet.

Three-quarters of all wild pandas now live in nature reserves – but despite this, they’re still endangered. Nearly half of all wild pandas were lost between the early 1970s and the late 1990s – mainly owing to habitat destruction and poaching. Habitat loss and fragmentation are still the main threats today.

Find out how you can help protect giant pandas

Why pandas matter

Panda in the snow

Giant pandas help to keep their habitats healthy by spreading seeds in their droppings all around the forest – which helps vegetation to spread and grow and so helps the forest thrive.

The panda’s forest habitat is also important for the livelihoods of local people – who use it for food, income, fuel for cooking and heating, and medicine. Giant pandas live in the same mountains that form the watersheds for the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. These river basins are the economic heart of China – home to over 500 million people!

So by protecting pandas, we’re helping protect the wider environment where they live, for both the people and other wildlife that depend on it.

Pandas themselves are also economically and culturally valuable. They are the national symbol of China and generate income to the country through tourism, which in turn can benefit local communities.

Threats to giant pandas

Habitat fragmentation

The main threat to pandas is loss and fragmentation of their habitat. Roads and railways are increasingly cutting through the forest, which isolates panda populations and prevents them from breeding.

Pandas are very selective when it comes to bamboo

Human expansion

Their habitat is also degraded by people collecting medicinal herbs and harvesting bamboo – the pandas’ main source of food. These activities have cut through habitats, reducing the panda’s ability to move between areas to look for food – and ultimately isolating populations.

Bamboo naturally dies off every 40-120 years, depending on the type. Before people dominated their landscape, pandas could move from areas where die-offs had occurred to areas with healthy bamboo. But as the human population has expanded and fragmented habitat, pandas are no longer able to ‘follow’ the bamboo, so may get stuck in areas without enough food.

Giant panda

How WWF is helping protect pandas

Giant panda

Working with the Chinese government

In 1980 we became the first international organisation invited to work in China – and we’ve been working with the Chinese government to help protect giant pandas ever since. This includes helping to designate and set up protected areas to keep more panda habitat intact. 

Bee on a pink geranium

Helping communities sustainably use natural resources

We also work with local communities to help them use their natural resources more sustainably, and encourage alternative livelihoods such as bee-keeping – things that don’t negatively impact on the panda’s habitat.

Male giant panda

Tracking giant pandas

It’s been difficult to track giant panda numbers over the years. The latest survey, in 2004, counted around 1,600 pandas – 40% more than in the 1980s – however this increase could be due to better survey methods. The latest giant panda survey – the fourth national survey - is currently under way. The results are due out later this year.  

Giant panda

Success story: 62 nature reserves in China

Since we started our work in China in the 1980s, the amount of panda habitat that’s protected has increased and threats such as poaching and illegal logging have significantly decreased.

There are now 62 nature reserves covering nearly 60% of the pandas’ range and 75% of the wild panda population. Our aim is to expand and connect more forests so that pandas can safely roam further.

How you can help protect pandas