Are Pandas Dangerous?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: August 10, 2022
Image Credit V-yan/Shutterstock.com
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panda bear climbing on tree
The giant panda male can weigh up to 280 pounds fully mature.

Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock.com

Key Points:
  • Pandas are cute, seemingly docile animals that people tend to imagine are not dangerous. But when a giant panda is annoyed, or senses a threat to itself or its babies, it can attack humans.
  • Panda bears are carnivorous, but spend most of their time consuming bamboo. It takes hours to eat enough bamboo to give pandas the calories and nutrients they need, so they usually nap 2-4 hours after an eating session.
  • Pandas tend to be solitary, and mark their territories with scents to warn other pandas from invading their territory. During mating season, females will leave special scents to alert males that they are available to mate.

The giant panda lives within Sichuan province and is also found within Shaanxi and Gansu. It grows to be between 2 and 3 feet tall at the shoulders while on all four limbs when it’s fully mature. Wild males can weigh up to 280 pounds, making them significantly larger than females. This begs the question: With such large stature, are pandas dangerous?

Pandas aren’t the most graceful or majestic creatures on the earth, but humans tend to view them as affable creatures. Are they naturally aggressive? Or do they have a friendly disposition? Keep reading to find out more about the panda’s relationship with humans and other animals.

Are Pandas A Threat To Humans?

giant panda hanging in a tree
Pandas can be dangerous to humans if they feel threatened. Attacks are infrequent and most likely in captivity.

iStock.com/dangdumrong

Pandas, despite their fluffy and cuddly appearance, can be quite dangerous to humans. Pandas are substantially stronger than most men, and their teeth and claws are dangerous. Even though pandas attack humans on an infrequent basis, when they do so, the attacks are typically ferocious.

Pandas are solitary creatures, and spend most of their times in trees eating bamboo, or sleeping between meals. When they encounter a human in the wild, they typically avoid confrontation. Like many wild animals, pandas will flee the scene of an encounter if given an adequate chance. Problems can arise if humans confront a panda, thinking it’s friendly.

Bears like the brown, black, Adirondack, or polar bear are much more dangerous, as they are carnivorous, and always looking for food when not in hibernation. Bears will actually seek out people, especially if they smell food. This can lead to encounters between humans and bears that can even result in death. As a panda bear prefers eating bamboo and other plants, it is not prone to hunt other animals, or see a human as a food source.

Would A Panda Attack A Human?

Fluffiest Animals: Giant Panda
Unprovoked, it is highly unlikely that a panda would attack a human.

V-yan/Shutterstock.com

Pandas have attacked people in the name of self-defense. Giant pandas in the wild are unlikely to approach humans, but could attack if a human causes them annoyance, or they perceive a human to be a threat to their cubs. It’s highly unlikely that a panda would attack a human without provocation.

While it’s extremely rare for a wild panda to harm humans, attacks have occurred. There are no clearly documented cases of a giant panda killing a human, but there are cases of attacks, surprisingly from the Beijing Zoo. On three separate occasions, visitors to the zoo either entered the panda bear enclosure purposefully or fell in. In these cases, the captive panda bear did attack, inflicting ferocious bites that almost severed limbs. Pandas also have retractable claws in their paws that can slice human skin with ease.

How To Stay Safe Around Pandas

It should go without saying, but for those of you that are tempted to approach wild animals, it’s never a wise idea, especially with a bear. Pandas weigh a lot more than humans, have ferocious biting capabilities, and have razor-sharp claws. Your best bet to avoid conflict with a panda bear, or any bear, is to keep a healthy distance. If you notice that a panda bear has one or more cubs, be particularly on alert. Any bear, even the panda, is fiercely protective of their young.

What are the chances you would encounter a panda bear? Unless you live in the region of China where they live in the wild, or are planning a backpacking adventure there, you probably will never encounter a panda bear in the wild. But it would be wise to apply the same rules you would follow if encountering any type of bear.

  • If hiking, carry bear spray. If you discover a bear is near you, be ready to use it.
  • Don’t run from a bear. Talk to it and slowly back away.
  • As you’re hiking, make loud noises along the trail, such as hitting two rocks together, to alert a nearby bear so that it will hopefully avoid you.
  • If camping, store any food in bear caches, and avoid cooking close to where you will sleep. The smell of food can definitely draw bears to you.
  • Play dead with an aggressive grizzly bear. If a black bear, it’s advisable to fight back.

Your main opportunity to encounter a panda bear would be at a zoo. As there are some documented cases of pandas attacking humans who got into their enclosures, the best way to avoid a panda bear attack is to stay out of their enclosures. Don’t climb up on fences or walls to get closer, and definitely don’t try to purposely invade their territory for a photo op or physical contact. You would be putting your life at risk.

What Do Pandas Eat?

Animals with Opposable Thumbs-giant panda
Pandas eat mostly bamboo or leaves, even though they are known to eat carrion, or dead animal flesh when it presents itself.

Bryan Faust/Shutterstock.com

Despite being classified as a Carnivore; the giant panda’s diet consists almost entirely of bamboo shoots and leaves. In the wild, giant pandas eat a wide variety of grasses and roots. In rare cases, they will consume the flesh of birds, rodents, or dead animals. While in captivity, they’re frequently fed various kinds of honey and eggs as well as a variety of other things including yams, leaves, oranges, and bananas.

Pandas generally spend between 10-16 hours of the day eating. The biggest reason for this is that bamboo doesn’t have a lot of calories or nutrients in it, so pandas must eat a lot of it to get what they need. Between their rather long meals, giant pandas sleep 2-4 hours. The majority of their lives are spent eating and sleeping.

Are Pandas Territorial Animals?

Pandas are solitary creatures who do not like their territory invaded by other pandas.

The giant panda is found in the bamboo forests of the Qinling Mountains and the hilly region of Sichuan. Giant pandas are solitary animals who mark their territories with scents. If another panda enters a marked territory and encounters the scent markings, it will usually depart. Pandas are creatures who are dangerous to other pandas if their territory is invaded.

Each adult has a specified region. During the breeding season, when pandas are in close proximity, social interactions are most common. Female pandas will set scent markings to let males knows that they are available for mating, and these scent markings will draw males to her.

Are Pandas Naturally Aggressive?

Animals in China - Giant Panda
Pandas are known to be aggressive when threatened and have strong teeth and jaws like most bears.

It’s uncommon for giant pandas to be aggressive unless they’re threatened. Despite their cute appearance, panda bears have strong jaws and teeth, just like most other bears. Like bears, they are bred for combat. They have the ability and willingness to cause extensive injury or death if necessary. When males are trying to establish dominance or contending for females, this is especially important to keep in mind!

Pandas can be aggressive towards one another in the wild. In fact, in one documented case in 2007, a male panda born in captivity was released into the wild, and was soon killed in a fight with other pandas. Male pandas will fight with each other over mating rights, and people in China’s Qinling Mountains have witnessed pandas with torn ears and bites from fights.

How Strong Are Pandas?

Giant pandas have a bite force strong enough to break another bear’s bones.

Manfred Werner / Creative Commons

Giant pandas, along with hippopotamuses, polar bears, tigers, brown bears, and lions, have one of the most powerful bites of any land mammal. Their fangs and jaws are built to shatter and crush bamboo stalks, which means they can cause great injury to other creatures including people. Giant pandas can have a bite force of up to 2603 newtons, which is more than enough to break another bear’s bones!

The panda bear is considered to be the fifth strongest carnivore in the world, only surpassed by the lion, grizzly bear, polar bear, and tiger. They can definitely hold their own in a fight against most predators. Pandas, on average, weigh up to 350 pounds and stand about 5 feet tall.

What Are Predators Of The Panda?

Are Pandas Dangerous - Mother panda and baby panda
The panda can be attacked by snow leopards, pumas, and jackals when they are young.

Daniel X D/Shutterstock.com

Few predators exist that pose a danger to giant pandas. Predators of Pandas, especially young ones, include jackals, snow leopards, and yellow-throated pumas. Despite having few natural enemies, the giant panda’s survival is threatened by habitat loss and invasion.

One of the most serious dangers to the Panda bears is humans themselves. Panda bears, who have a uniquely colored coat, are sought for their pelts to this day. Humans have destroyed the animal’s native habitat, putting it on the verge of extinction.

Another possible threat to giant panda bears is the global threat of climate change. If the planet continues to warm, it would cause bamboo forests to move towards higher elevations for cooler temperatures. The problem is that panda bears don’t thrive in colder climates, so this could eventually leave them without their main food source.

Are Pandas An Endangered Species?

Are Pandas Dangerous - Giant Panda
Giant pandas are now extremely vulnerable and depend on protection.

Wonderly Imaging/Shutterstock.com

The giant panda is driven from its lowland habitats, where it once thrived, by farming, deforestation, and other development. It is now a vulnerable species that depends on protection.

The Chinese government recently declared that giant pandas are no longer endangered in the wild, although they remain vulnerable outside of captivity. After years of conservation efforts, there is still a mere population of 1,800. By expanding their habitats and removing bamboo from the landscape, officials have been able to feed giant pandas better.

Where to See Giant Panda Bears Safely

The place to see panda bears is in zoos, which are safe places to view all kinds of wild animals. The Beijing Zoo in China is one place to see pandas, as their habitat is in the nearby Qinling Mountains or Sichuan region. But there are pandas on display in other zoos around the world, including several in the United States:

Recent Panda Births

Whenever a giant panda gives birth in captivity, it’s a celebrated event! People want pandas to survive and thrive. One birth that excited Americans was the birth of a cub to the giant panda Mei Xiang at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. on August 23, 2020. You can view an adorable picture of the young growing panda here.

On August 2, 2021, two baby pandas were born at the Beauval Zoo in France. The mother panda’s name is Huan Huan, who was loaned to the zoo in 2012 from China, along with its male mate Yuan Zi.

Up Next…

Fluffiest Animals: Giant Panda
A playful happy panda in a China zoo. A 45-kilo adult (and pandas can reach 150 kg in captivity) spends as long as 14 hours eating. And it can eat 12 to 38 kilos of bamboo a day.
V-yan/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Pandas Nocturnal?

Previously, it was believed that pandas were crepuscular, meaning they were active at dawn or dusk. Scientists have revealed that pandas have distinct activity peaks in the morning, midday, and into the night.

 

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