Ming Ming, the world's oldest panda in captivity, passed away on May 7, 2011, at China's Panyu Xiangjiang Wild Animal World. In the wild, giant pandas generally live to be about 15 years old, but Ming Ming was 34 when, despite the best efforts of Guangzhou University veterinarians to stem the effects old age was having on her various organs in recent months, she succumbed to kidney failure. We hope you're able to enjoy a few fun panda facts despite the sad occasion.
Why are we so fascinated with giant pandas versus, say, alligators (which are also a threatened species)? The sad truth, as any human who has worn thick eyeglasses since third grade knows, is that one is cute and the other is not so much. Researchers have long studied the science of cuteness and have determined that there are certain "cute cues" that automatically trigger an "awww" response in humans. Large, bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a roly-poly body, and a teeter-totter gait are just a few of the traditional traits that provoke the urge to hug and cuddle. The panda seems to have been custom-built from the cute cue checklist: those black circles around the eyes (which scientists believe evolved to make them look more ferocious to predators) give them the waif-like look of a Keane painting, and the large facial muscles necessary to constantly chew bamboo 16 hours per day provide them with adorably chubby cheeks just begging to be pinched.
Why Don't They Just Get Busy?
Giant pandas have been endangered for years, and their numbers aren't dwindling strictly because their natural habitat is being encroached upon... it's just that the male panda is sort of the animal equivalent of Al Bundy. He spends upwards of 12 hours a day just sitting and eating, and apparently bamboo isn't nature's Viagra. Bamboo has very little nutritional value, so the panda needs to consume about 40 lbs. of the stuff each day to survive. In the wild, pandas have always been solitary animals precisely because each animal requires a huge tract of bamboo for its daily "bread." Wild pandas can sometimes go for years without encountering another one of their kind. Females only go into estrus once per year, and their fertile period lasts a maximum of three days. If there are no males nearby during this very narrow window of time, the female panda will remain cub-less for the year.
Talk About Tough Love...
According to a 2009 survey, the Sneezing Baby Panda was the third most popular YouTube video on the Internet. That famous nasal moment was captured by the Australian film production company Wild Candy that was filming a documentary called Little Pandas – The New Breed at the Wolong Panda Breeding Centre in China's Sichuan province. Tragically, the mama bear who was contentedly snacking in the video, Mao Mao, was crushed to death when the walls of her enclosure collapsed during the 2008 earthquake. Mao Mao was given an atypical (for an animal in China) ceremonial burial, with attendees observing three minutes of silence while her weeping long-time keeper arranged two apples and a piece of bread on her grave.