Their strong teeth, powerful jaws and fearful bite means that the natural predators of Giant Pandas are very few.
The giant panda is a native bear of Asia: specifically, native to the Sichuan province of China. They are known for their striking white and black coloration and their cuddly and generally peaceful demeanor.
However, though they spend most of their lifetime chewing bamboo plants, their bulk, strong teeth and powerful jaws means that fully grown giant pandas are a formidable foe to confront.
In fact, you’ll hardly hear of any animal attacking an adult panda at all. However, some animals will prey on cubs that are somehow separated from their mothers in the wild.
Some of these potential predators include snow leopards, dogs, and yellow-throated martens. All these animals will kill and eat a panda cub easily.
Let’s look at each of these creatures briefly:
Natural Predators Of Giant Pandas
These large and elusive cats are native to the mountains of South and Central Asia. They are strictly carnivores with very sharp teeth designed to quickly kill and eat their prey. As human activities extend more into their range, they are forced to find alternative prey rather than the usual wild goats and sheep they normally feed on.
Certainly, this means that in the quest for prey, if a snow leopard finds a lone panda cub it will definitely attack it for food. Though they prefer average sized prey, like gazelles, they are known to track down panda cubs.
They have a couple of similarities with pandas;
- snow leopards are also endangered,
- they share many of the same habitats that giant pandas dwell in in the wild.
Definitely, the close proximity of these two species means that there may frequently cross paths and have some conflict from time to time.
This is an Asian species of marten. They are slender, agile, weasel-like mammals that surprisingly can be quite fierce too.
These animals hunt alone or in packs and in one highly publicized case, a group of these martens attacked a 3-year old panda in the wild named PingPing.
The giant panda was severely injured and his abdomen was ripped open with the intestines hanging out.
Park rangers found him afterwards and evacuated him to the hospital but he eventually died after several hours of intensive surgery.
A group of yellow-throated martens attacked a 3-year old panda that later died after surgery.
Yellow-throated martens aren’t normally bold enough to challenge such a large animal but they may attack when hunting together in large numbers. In addition, these little mammals show very little fear of dogs or even humans.
Dogs whether wild or domesticated are known to attack panda cubs. If they encounter a mother giant panda with her cubs in the wild, they will attempt to separate one of the cubs and many times they do succeed.
If the attacking pack is too large, the mother panda may not be able to put them off for long and she will eventually lose the cubs. Farmers also use dogs to chase away adult pandas and in the process the dogs will attack cubs they find in the vicinity.
How Do Pandas Defend Themselves?
Despite all this, remember that an adult giant panda is no pushover. Yes, they are generally solitary and peaceful animals but when faced with an inevitable confrontation, they will fight back.
These are bears after all, and they may look huggable, cuddly and slow, they have a fearful bite. Actually, the giant has one of the highest bite force among land carnivores.
The fact that they can chew through very tough bamboo plants is a testament to their physical strength, powerful jaws and large strong teeth.
Where there is an option to flee, giant panda are excellent climbers, and they may flee up a tree rather than fight. Even their cubs can climb up trees quite fast from as little as 6 months of age.
Why Then Are Giant Pandas Such A Conservation Issue?
Followers of animal conservation news and trends would have noticed that at some point over the last few decades, the giant panda has literally become the face of animal conservation. Well, the population of this animal dropped so much that to date there are still less than 2,000 of them left in the wild.
Their numbers were decimated by factors like climate change, inbreeding, low birth rate and so on.
But guess what? The main reason these creatures suffered so much was due to attacks from their number one most persistent and determined predator: humans.
Yes. The main threat to pandas wasn’t any of the animals mentioned earlier, it was due to negative human activities like hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction.
The number one giant panda predator of all time is human beings.
Note that even when animals like the snow leopard kills a cub, such cases are minimal. On the other hand, when humans would hunt pandas, they could capture then in their tens or more. They used giant panda pelt for coats, as gifts, and they used panda parts for medicine, etc.
Luckily, there are now laws in place to protect these bears and it is illegal to hunt or harm them. In fact, there used to be a death penalty in China for killing giant pandas! Though that has been reduced to a 20-year jail term.
Presently, the negative trend in panda numbers has been arrested as they were downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable by the IUCN. Hopefully, this positive change will continue and eventually benefit other threatened animals as well.