Category Archives: Friends of Miles

Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca): Barry Kent NacKay

Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). This famous bear species is endemic to south central China. While they will rarely eat meat or other grasses or other food, like any other bear, nearly the entire diet consists of bamboo, and then only at specific stages of the bamboo’s development. Farming and deforestation have drove it to near extinction, but aggressive conservation measures seem to have saved the species, although the wild population has consistently remained below 2000 animals, with a few hundred in captivity. It has become emblematic of The People’s Republic of China. The ancestors of the Giant Panda began to diverge from other bears about 19 million years ago. An interesting characteristic of the Giant Panda is the forepaw, that has the usual five forward pointed fingers, each with a claw, plus a “thumb”, a modified sesamoid bone that looks like a sixth digit and is used to help the animal hold bamboo while eating.

This is another of what I’m calling my “COVID paintings”, done during lockdown, although during a time when stores were open I visited an art supply store and was alarmed at the paucity of my usual painting surfaces, acid-free Masonite and birch panels.  But I noticed blocks of compressed bamboo for sale, and bought one. I love painting bears and I could not think of a better kind of animal to paint on bamboo than a Giant Panda. The experiment worked, but happily the Masonite and birch panel supply is returning.

Bamboo is low in nutriment value, and high in cellulose, indigestible to most animals. But baby Giant Pandas, who are born with no intestinal bacteria, obtain the bacteria required to break down cellulose by ingesting their mother’s feces. As an adult, on average a Giant Panda will eat some 9 to 14 kg (about 20 to 30 pounds) of bamboo a day, and, fun fact, must defecate up to forty times each day. It is still a low-energy diet and Giant Pandas tend to be relatively inactive. Giant Pandas from the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi, are more light brown and white, instead of black and white, and have smaller skulls but larger molar teeth than other Giant Pandas, and are in the subspecies, A. m. ginlingensis, popularly called the Qinling Panda.  This painting is in oils on compressed bamboo and is 12 inches by 9 inches with rounded corners.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada