The giant panda’s unusual diet may be the result of human pressure

Jan 31, 2019

Something to chew on

THE GIANT PANDA is beloved of conservationists. It is the mascot of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature, formerly the World Wildlife Fund) and, with its striking black-and-white pelage, is one of the most recognisable large animals in the world. It is also evolutionarily weird. It is a type of bear, and therefore a member of the order of mammals known, after their usual dietary habits, as the Carnivora. But it is an obligate herbivore.

And it is rare. Optimistic estimates put the global panda population at between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals—with all those not living in zoos occupying a few fragments of bamboo forest in central China. Pessimists reckon those numbers are on the high side. It is ironic, then, that this icon of the natural world might actually be an accidental consequence of human activity. Yet this is a plausible interpretation of results just published in a paper in...


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