Feb 19, 2014


Shan Hai Jin 山海经

Historical Recordings About Giant Panda in China

The Giant Panda has been recorded in major Chinese historic books for more than 3,000 years including Shijing (Book of Songs), Erya (Progress Toward Correctness), Shangshu (The Book of History) and Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica). In different resources, various names have been given to Giant Panda such as Pixiu, Mo, Zouyu, White Bear, Flowery Bear, Bamboo Bear and Iron-eating Animal.

The Giant Panda was described in Shan Hai Jing (Classic of the Mountains and Seas) written more than 2700 years ago as such: with white and black fur, it looks like bear; and found in Yandao County of Qionglai Mountain (the present Rongjing County, Sichuan Province). Here Giant Pandas were named as Iron-eating Animal because it was believed that it eats metals.  In the West Jin Dynasty (1700 years ago), Giant Panda was called Zhouyu, a legendary peace animal who never hurt other animals, because panda eats bamboo only, and also does not hurt other animals, so it was seen as an Peace Animal'. If one side of the two fighting armies show a flag with panda patten on it, the both sides have to stop fighting immediately.


Panda's Discoverer J.P.A David

The Western Knowledge of Giant Panda

The Western countries got to know giant panda quite recently. The one who first saw panda and introduced the animal to the western world was a French missionary called Armand David. On 11 March 1869 , on his way back to catholic church in Dengchigou of Muping (now Baoxing County) of Sichuan, David visited a hunter and saw the panda's skin in his home. 10 days later, David purchased a body of a young panda that just hunted. He turned it into a specimen and sent to Melne Edwards, the director of the Natural Museum of Paris. After studying it, Edwards published a paper in 1870 announcing it a new species and naming the scientific name of the Giant panda as Ailuropoda melanoleuca David. The first specimen collected by David is still kept in the Natural Museum of Paris.

German zoologist Hugo Weigold purchased a live giant panda in Wenchuan of Sichuan Province in 1916 and became the first westerner who owns a live panda. In 1936, Ruth Harkness who was a female American fashion designer became the first Westerner to bring back a live giant panda, a cub named Su Lin who went to live at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

The foreigner who got most giant pandas from China is the British F.T. Smith. He stayed for 20 years in the living place of giant pandas and was called King of Giant Pandas by the westerners. From 1936 to 1938, Smith bought 12 live giant pandas in Wenchan of Sichuan Province, among which only 6 were shipped to Britain alive..

Evolution of Giant Pandas

Analysis over fossils indicates that, in late Miocene that is about 8 million years ago, at the edge of the tropical humid forest around the Lufeng Area in Yunan Province of China, there had lived the ancestor of giant panda - The primal panda (Ailuaractos Lufengensis), which is the earliest panda that evolved from arctoid with a carnassial food habit. The primal panda became extinct in late Miocene period. While the main lineage of primal giant panda continued their evolution in central and south China, one branch of which appeared in early Pleistocene about 3 million years ago, was half the size of the giant panda that we see today, mostly like a fat dog. From the fossil teeth, it is speculated to have evolved into a species of omnivorous animals which partially feed on bamboos.

Two million years later, these smaller-figured giant pandas started to extend their living areas to the sub-tropical humid forest, which covered Yunnan, Guangxi and Sichuan. Later on, the giant panda has further adapted to the life in subtropical bamboo woods and their bodies grew bigger. In age of mid and late Pleistocene, which is between the 500 thousand to 700 thousand years ago, was the flourishing age of giant pandas.

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