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Look, we've all heard the rumors that giant pandas are an evolutionary dead end. But we are here to set the record straight and show you that these adorable fluff balls are a lot tougher than they seem.

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Look, it’s no secret that  pandas are like, the cutest.

They’re beloved around the world, for good reason. Just, Just look at that face!

But the reputation of the humble panda has taken a bit of a knock  in the past 20 years or so. People say things like bamboo is a bad food for the bears, or that they’re bad at breeding. And some people even say that it’s not worth it to save pandas from extinction, because they were a dead species walking even before we all got involved.

Well, we at SciShow have  decided to defend their honor, and prove to you once and for  all that this panda slander is totally bogus, no matter what the haters say! [intro] So let’s start with that whole breeding thing. Early captive breeding programs for pandas had pretty low success rates, leading some researchers  to worry that maybe pandas just aren’t good at making more pandas. And a species that can’t reproduce is pretty much dead in the water.

And while it is true that early captive breeding wasn’t a huge hit among those pandas, we have learned a /lot/ more about panda breeding, both in the wild and in captivity. Field studies on two different panda populations found that the wild giant panda reproduction rate is over 60%. In one of the studies, they even observed an adult female who’d given birth to a total of 5 cubs, all of whom survived to adulthood.

Typically, a panda mother will give birth every two years, which is essentially the same rate as most other bears make babies. But brown bears usually wait /three/ years between pregnancies, so giant pandas aren’t even the  slowest breeders among bears. And while captive breeding programs have definitely had some rocky starts and low early success rates, we’ve learned a lot and gotten way better at helping to make more panda babies.

A lot of the failures of the past came from people not really knowing /how/ pandas like to breed, or how they rear their cubs. But we’ve learned a /lot/ since then, and now pandas breed pretty  regularly in captivity. Way back in 2006, data showed that over 90%  of captive-bred panda cubs survive to adulthood.

That said, some researchers have had to resort to a bit of trickery when it comes to getting those success rates. See, pandas can sometimes have twin cubs, but when they’re in captivity, panda moms almost never try to raise both cubs. Instead, they’ll often abandon  one cub after just a few hours.

But in the last couple of decades, panda-keepers have figured out they can trick Mom into taking care of both cubs, after all. The keepers will periodically swap out one cub for the other, giving each of them plenty  of time to snuggle up to Mom, and neither twin will ever know which of them was their mother’s favorite. It’s tricks like those that have gotten us really good at making more pandas in captivity.

So both in captivity and in the wild, pandas know /exactly/ what they’re doing. Maybe they just didn’t want /you/ to know. MIDROLL This SciShow video is supported by Good Good Good and their Goodnewspaper.

Good Good Good is a team made up of journalists, nonprofit experts,  activists, and artists … who happen to also be Nerdfighters. As you might expect, they’re basically just good people. And they’ve been putting out the monthly Goodnewspaper since 2017.

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And SciShow viewers you’ll get your first Goodnewspaper for just $5 and you can cancel any time. Now back to the show. Now let’s talk about the whole bamboo thing.

The argument here goes that bamboo isn’t a nutritious food, so becoming a specialist at eating it makes no sense. But there are a few reasons that a panda’s favorite food  is actually a clever choice. One, there’s a lot of it.

They’re not called bamboo /forests/ for nothing. On top of that, no one /else/ really eats it. Bamboo isn’t easy to digest for other herbivores, so they don’t tend to eat much of it.

Which means that it’s a resource pandas don’t have to compete with anybody else over. Pandas are the equivalent of that one person at the party who likes the black jelly beans. ~ And pandas even digest their  cellulose-heavy diet differently from other herbivores. Instead of fermenting that cellulose to wring out every last ounce of nutrition, like ruminants would, pandas just let it all pass along pretty quickly.

That basically means they can mow through more bamboo faster and just suck out the important parts. Maybe that sounds a little wasteful. But again, they literally live in bamboo forests.

They’re not exactly running out of the stuff. On top of that, pandas have  an entire head-to-toe toolkit designed for noshing on bamboo. Their jaws are crazy strong, with large, flat teeth made  for crunching up thick stalks.

And they’ve lost their  tastebuds for picking up meaty, umami flavors, probably because you don’t need those when all you eat are stick salads. We even think their gut bacteria are specially adapted to a bamboo-heavy diet. And… They even developed a new /finger/.

Okay well technically it’s a pseudo-thumb, but they basically invented  a sixth digit on each paw, just/ to grab bamboo stalks. ~ Now, that said, it still kinda  feels weird for a bear to go vegan. But here’s the thing. Even though other species of bears may be considered carnivores, they don’t eat all that much meat, either.

Or at least, the meat they eat isn’t quite like what other carnivores eat. And the reason why has to do with macronutrients, like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. See, while we tend to generalize foods based on their primary macronutrient, there aren’t that many  foods that only contain one.

Like, when you eat a fatty cut of meat you’d probably think of it as a protein, since it’s meat. But it has all that fat in there too, so your body is going to process  that fatty meat differently than it would handle something  like a lean beef patty. And the bears that are considered carnivores really aren’t all that focused on protein, either.

For instance, polar bears  pretty much only eat seals, but when they do, they go for the fatty blubber, not the protein-rich muscle tissue. ~ And sloth bears’ main food source are termites, which are also high-fat. There are also Andean spectacled bears which are basically herbivores, just like pandas. And black bears just sort  of eat everything they find.

Including our garbage, if they can get it. So pretty much all bears are adapted  to relatively low protein diets, and focus on either fats or carbs instead. And here’s the kind of crazy part.

Pandas actually end up eating /more/ protein than some /actual/ carnivorous animals get, all from bamboo. About 50% of their energy comes from protein, which puts them on par with something like a wolf. So maybe bamboo isn’t such  a bad food choice after all.

But some people also argue that pandas won’t be able to make it through the next evolutionary bump in the road, at least not without our help. But it turns out, pandas have survived several/ potentially species-ending  events in their time. For starters, the ancestors of pandas have been around for between six and eight million years, and their lineage survived multiple  glacial periods in that time.

Unlike some /other/ bears I could mention. Looking at you, Eurasian cave bears. But the real threat to giant pandas comes right back to their beloved bamboo.

See, every 40 to 100 years or so, bamboo stalks will flower , and after the plant flowers, it dies. And the whole population of bamboo plants in an area will do this at the same time, kind of like a reverse cicada brooding situation. Which is a pretty big bummer if  bamboo is your favorite snack.

These mass scale flowering  events are indeed bad news bears, or in this case, bad news pandas. Or al least they would be, if pandas weren’t already ahead of the game. When their favorite bamboo flowers, the pandas in that area will either  switch to a different bamboo species or migrate to areas with more food that’s less, you know, dead.

So even when nature rocks the boat, pandas have managed to hang on. Hopefully we can put all those  rumors about pandas to bed. They’re a lot tougher than they look!

So enjoy all those panda videos  that come across your feed, and know that this really is  what peak performance looks like. [ OUTRO ]