By James Bullock

Edited for online by Tom Sharman

Surprising evidence has emerged that the iconic diet of the giant panda may not be suited for their digestive system.


A baby giant panda deep in thought, in a conservation facility in the Sichuan province of China.

It is a classroom fact that the cuddly looking giant panda will eat only bamboo, using a full 12 hours a day to do so.

Scientists in China however have found bacteria in the bear’s gut is capable of only processing 14 per cent of the bamboo it eats.

World Wide Fund for Nature’s national species manager Darren Grover suggests the new research highlights the importance of plentiful bamboo for the species, both in and out of the wild.

“They do need large areas and they do need large volumes of bamboo to get them through the day and obviously with more pandas that means more bamboo,”  Mr Grover said.

It is theorised by researchers that pandas made the switch from a meat and plant-based diet to bamboo around two million years ago, however their intestines have not yet fully adapted to eat bamboo.

“They have to eat large amounts of bamboo to insure that they get enough nutrition out of what they are eating, because I suppose you could call it a lack of efficiency of the gut floor that they have,” Mr Grover said.

This may not have helped with conservation efforts over the years, as the panda remains on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species,  with populations having suffered from habitat loss in the mountain regions of China.

Mr Grover says conservation efforts have been improving and remains hopeful that numbers will increase in years to come.

“Some relatively good news coming out of China, the populations in the wild appear to be increasing and our knowledge and ability to captive bread pandas is also increasing, especially in facilities in China,” Mr Grover said.

Only 2,500 adult giant pandas remain in the wild.