August 19: How does the idea of taking your pet dog for a visit to the zoo strike you? Well, dogs in Beijing, China, got to do just that. They were taken to meet their distant cousins in the city’s zoo — all for a cause. The Beijing zoo recently gave a red carpet welcome to pet lovers who stepped forward to help save the life of a newborn panda abandoned by its mother.

It all started when the zoo’s prize attraction, Lele, the giant panda, gave birth to twin cubs. Zoo officials were overjoyed as pandas are an endangered species. But their joy was short-lived when Lele began ignoring one cub in favour of the other. The zoo veterinarian (animal doctor) declared that mama panda could not produce enough milk for both cubs and the abandoned cub might die if something wasn’t done quickly.

'Panda Seeks Mama Dog'
‘Panda Seeks Mama Dog’ [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
So, zoo officials decided to substitute panda milk with the next best thing – dog’s milk (which also contains proteins essential for baby pandas). The local newspaper pitched in by publishing an article with the eye-catching headline – ‘Panda seeks Mama Dog’. The article did the trick and many pet lovers volunteered to lend their dog for the project. The baby panda got its meals and according to latest reports, the panda is perfectly healthy.

But what does a giant panda looks like? Giant pandas look like furry bears, but unlike bears, giant pandas do not hibernate or pass the winter resting or sleeping. They can be easily recognised by their striking black and white markings. Panda ears, eye patches, legs, and shoulder areas are black, while the rest of the body is white.

Adult giant pandas are four to six feet long and often weigh more than 160 kg. These mammals live in dense forests at altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and their thick, woolly coat comes in handy, insulating them from the cold.

Giant pandas are found only in small isolated forests in the mountains of central China and it is estimated that there are only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild! Around a hundred are in Chinese and North Korean zoos while only about 15 giant pandas live in zoos outside of China and North Korea.

Poor breeding is the reason for their low numbers. Another reason is the poaching menace as smugglers kill the animal for its fur, which fetches high prices in the black market. The Chinese government has cracked down on poachers and imposes severe penalty for poaching.

The giant panda loves eating bamboo, its favourite meal. It has unusual front paws and one of the wrist bones stretches out and is used just as we use our thumbs. This extra bone helps the panda to get a firm hold on stalks of bamboo.

About 95 percent of the giant panda’s diet consists of bamboo, but it is not averse to munching on other things – including certain flowers, fish and small rodents. They spend 16-20 hours a day feeding but they also need to eat at least 12 -20 kg of food every single day, to survive.

This loveable mammal is a familiar figure to people across the world. It is the logo or symbol of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the largest international conservation organisation in the world.