Photo of the Day #13: Tai Shan, the Giant Panda Cub


Yesterday's photo of Tai Shan received so many positive responses I thought I would put another one up. Getting these shots could be a little difficult at times, however, (warning: bad pun ahead) as it was definitely pandemonium around the enclosure when the young bear came out. His parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian certainly didn't get as much attention, but they also were not as active or curious as their offspring. If you want to look in on the pandas yourself the National Zoo has a Panda Cam that will allow you to do so.

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Those kiddies sure do grow up fast! I was in the DC area just over two years ago visiting a friend. I made her take me to the zoo (because that's what I like to do when I go anywhere), and if I recall correctly Tai Shan was so young that he could only be seen on the panda cam. Now he's huge, comparatively speaking at least.

Pandas are amazing creatures. They put the charismatic in Charismatic Megafauna!

Query: Are taxonomists any closer to figuring out the great panda's true allegiences? Genetic evidence says it's a bear, but anatomy confers a racoon grouping on it, from what I understand.

One of the definitive sources on zoo and wildlife medicine (Fowler Five) classifies them in Ursidae.
In a physiologic sense, they relate pretty well with other bears (they are spontaneous ovulators with delayed implantation, etc.), but they have some interesting susceptibilities to diseases (specifically canine distemper virus) that other bears lack, and of course, they have the infamous pandas' thumb.

The panda's a great example of how modern genetic technology is messing up old school taxonomy.

The previously linked series on Voltage Gate addresses this controversy in red pandas, I think. (Red pandas are classified with Procyonidae in most texts I've seen.)

By Meredith M. Clancy (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

Dave; the amount of panda-themed merchandise being sold at the National Zoo definitely backs up their charismatic status.

Zach; As Meredith said, it seems that the issue is now resolved and Pandas belong in the Ursidae (which always made much more sense to me, anyhow). There seems to be some debate about Red Pandas now, although it's the sole living member of the family Ailuridae.

Meredith; Thanks for your help with this!

So red pandas aren't racoons, either? But they have the long bushy, striped tail! And they're so damn CUTE! Any idea what the panda's closest relative is? Must be the Asian bears, I suppose. Sun bear, sloth bear...there's...another one.