It is only recently that zoologists have sorted out the relationship between pandas and raccoons. Modern scientific techniques now show that the raccoon family is divided into two subfamilies one including raccoons, coatis and the kinkajou, the other containing the red panda. The giant panda is related to bears. Apart from the red panda all members of the raccoon family live in the Americas. The pandas are found only in Asia.
The giant panda and the red panda have a number of similar characteristics, such as a false ‘thumb’ so they were once considered to be closely related. It is now though that the pandas’ shared feature probably developed as they evolved to survive is similar habitats.
About 1.5 m (5 ft) long the giant panda lives only in the mountainous forests of southwestern China. Its main food is bamboo. This woody grass is low in nutrients, so pandas must eat about 38 kg (84 lb) of it every day to survive.
An agile animal, the red panda is about 1 m (3.3 ft) long including its tail. It lives on the slopes of the southern Himalayas and in parts of China spending much of the day asleep in a tree. At night it looks for food on the ground. Bamboo is just part of its diet. Other food includes birds’ eggs, chicks and berries.
Giant pandas often give birth to twins but usually only one cub survives. A newborn cub is hairless and weighs only 90 – 100 g (3 – 3.5 oz). The female cardles it constantly for the first three weeks and carries it around for four to five months. Red pandas have up four cubs they can walk at about three days old.
|Red panda cub|
Both giant pandas and red pandas have five toes on each foot. They also have a false ‘thumb’ on their forepaws. This can developed from the wrist bone and the pandas use it to grip bamboo stems.
There are seven species of raccoon. The best – known in the common raccoon with its black mark and ringed tail. This inquisitive animal eats most things including fish, frogs, insects, small mammals and fruit. It has adapted well to living near people will rifle through dustbins, picking out food with its forepaws.
This forest animal is at home on the ground and in the trees. Females and young from groups and forage together during the day for such as insects, lizards and tubers. They used their forepaws and long flexible snout to hunt in crevices and on the forest floor.
The nocturnal kinkajou lives in the forests of tropical Central and South America. It spends almost all its time in the trees and in the only American carnivore to have a prehensile tail, which means it can grasp things with it. The kinkajou uses its tail to cling to branches while it feed – mainly on fruit and nectar. Its back teeth have lost the sharp edges that carnivores have for slicing meat. Instead their teeth are blunt and used for crushing fruit.
- SCIENTIFIC NAME : Aliuropoda melanoleuca
- ORDER : Carnivora
- FAMILY :Ursidae
- DISTRIBUTION : Southwestern China
- HABITAT : Forests with bamboo
- DIET : Bamboo, other plants and meat.
- SIZE : Length: up to 1.7 m (5.5 ft)
- LIFESPAN : Over 20 years (in captivity)