The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has been part of an international effort to breed highly endangered giant pandas in captivity ever since Richard Nixon visited China in 1972. But in 43 years, they’ve had only two solid successes–cubs Tai Shan and Bao Bao. They hope the new twins born this weekend will make it four.
Red pandas and giant pandas have more in common than simply being equally adorable and included on the IUCN Red List. They both eat bamboo and live in the same habitats. How do they coexist without competing over the same resources? The secret might be hidden in their skulls.
For members of the taxonomic order Carnivora, giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) eat surprisingly little meat. They're nearly entirely herbivorous, subsisting almost exclusively on bamboo. What's strange about the panda is that it isn't really very well designed for a plant-based diet. At least not at first glance.