One of the world's rarest animals, the giant panda lives in sub-alpine forests in the west-central region of China. The giant panda is a large, stocky animal measuring about 70 to 80 cm (27 to 32 in.) at the shoulder and weighing up to 150 kg (330 lb.).
Its diet consists primarily of plants (mainly bamboo), but it also eats small animals. It usually spends 10 to 12 hours a day eating, and will consume about 9 kg (20 lb.) of leaves and bamboo.
The classification of the panda has long been a matter of controversy among zoologists. Originally classified with the bears, it was later grouped with raccoons. The weight of evidence that has accumulated over the years, however, seems to support the view that it is more closely related to bears. Its closest living relative is the spectacled bear of South America.
A handful of giant pandas are kept in zoos of the Western World, where they have become star attractions. They do not often breed in captivity.
Poaching and capture for zoos are major threats. In addition, the isolation of the remaining wild populations places the species at risk from sudden disasters like disease or, as happened in the 1970s, a dieback of the main food plant (bamboo).