The name panda refers to two species of mammals, each the sole member of its genus. The giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, is commonly classified as a bear, family Ursidae; the lesser, or red, panda, Ailurus fulgens, is usually placed with the raccoons, family Procyonidae. Some authorities have created a separate family, Ailuridae, for the pandas, but recent studies of their genetic and protein materials support the bear and raccoon groupings.
The giant panda, a rare and closely protected animal, lives in the cool, damp bamboo forests of mountainous central China, generally at elevations of 1,500 to 4,000 m (5,000 to 13,000 ft). Its thick, woolly coat is black or brownish black and yellowish white; the darker color forms patches around the eyes, covers the ears, legs, and chest, and forms a band across the shoulders. Giant pandas grow to 1.5 m (5 ft) long, plus a short tail, and weigh 150 kg (330 lb) or more. Bamboo constitutes most of their diet, but they may also feed on other plants and even an occasional small animal. Mating takes place in April or May, and one or two young are born, usually in January.
The red, or lesser, panda is found in the forested mountains of the Himalayas and western China at elevations of 1,800 to 4,000 m (6,000 to 13,000 ft). It has a long, dense, woolly coat of reddish brown, with lighter colored bands on the tail and dark red brown or black undersides. Its face is white, with a reddish brown stripe extending down from each eye to the lower jaw. The red panda grows to 112 cm (44 in) long, including a 48-cm (19-in) tail, and weighs up to 5 kg (11 lb).
The panda population has declined sharply in the last decade, due to human encroachment of the panda's natural habitats in bamboo thickets. Its survival, moreover, is threatened by the flowering-and-dying phase in the century-long life cycle of its principal food´┐Żbamboo. Pandas are being forced to move into isolated communities, resulting in inbreeding and a loss of food. The Chinese government has established 12 panda reserves with new breeding centers in an attempt to prevent the panda's extinction. Captive panda breeding has had limited success, however, because their sexual habits are poorly understood.
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