For years experts argued about whether the giant panda should be grouped with bears, or raccoons, or classed in a family of its own. Scientific study now suggests that the panda is definitely a member of the bear family. The giant panda is a rare animal that is found only in the mountainous forests of Central China, where it feeds on a certain kind of bamboo tree. As the bamboo is not very nutritious, the panda spends 10-12 hours a day eating.

If we go by common names, there are two types of pandas: the giant panda and the red panda. However, only of them is considered a bear species.

There has been a long drawn debate among scientists as to whether the giant panda is a bear, a raccoon, or has a separate family of its own. Why? The giant pandas and red pandas have characteristics common with both a bear and a raccoon. However, with evidence from recent genetic studies indicating that the giant panda is more closely related to a bear, it is categorized in the bear family Ursidae.

Why are they called pandas?

The giant panda is a bear of the bear family Ursidae. Even though it shares a common name with the red panda, the latter is not a bear and belongs to a distinct family of its own called Ailuridae.

The term panda is believed to have its roots in the Nepalese word ‘nigalya ponya’, which translates to ‘bamboo eater’ in English. Thus, the name panda essentially refers to the bamboo-based diet of both giant and red pandas even though the two animals are classified separately. In fact, the red panda was described way before the giant panda, and the latter was named ‘panda’ due to the similarities the two species share, like feeding on bamboo shoots. The giant panda is also known as the bamboo bear, panda bear, or in Chinese as ‘Daxiongmao,’ which means ‘the large bear cat.’

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