An Ode to Bamboo

Think of bamboo and you think of pandas, after all it is their staple diet. It is therefore understandable to be concerned that supplies of bamboo might run out if we keep using it as an alternative to wood. However, with millions of trees cut down annually to produce single use paper cups, and the rate of deforestation causing 1.5 acres of forest to be cut down every second, it makes sense to use a sustainable material for your chosen drinking vessel, whether for coffee or for cold drinks in the summer.

Fortunately bamboo, coined the wood of the future, is amazingly versatile and renewable. It is a type of grass and when cut back it quickly regrows. Additionally;

  • It needs no pesticides,
  • It needs no irrigation,
  • It can be harvested in 3-5 years.
  • It produces 35% more oxygen than the same amount of trees
  • It is carbon neutral and helps balance oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
  • It inhibits soil erosion

Why do Pandas eat so much bamboo?

They will eat 10-15 kilos per day, or twice their own bodyweight in it, every fortnight. It is possible that they need so much because it isn’t very nutritious, especially the tough stalk. Bizarrely pandas’ digestive systems are more like those of carnivores so they cannot digest plant matter very easily, hence the need to spend half the day eating. They do however have amazingly strong jaws and large, flat teeth which enable them to break down the food efficiently before digesting it.

This system seems to be effective as pandas have been around a long time, a skull similar to that of a modern panda was found in Hungary 10 million years ago. This suggests eating bamboo works for them and also that pandas originated in Europe, not Asia, but this fossil was probably not a direct ancestor of the panda as we know it.

Climate change

Around 5 million years ago climate change was the probable cause of the demise of European pandas; their dense warm forests disappeared in Europe and China became the only place where pandas could survive. Panda fossils dating back 8 million years have been found in China and today China is the only place where wild Giant Pandas survive. Once endangered there has been an increase in their numbers and they are now classed as “vulnerable”, largely due to the Chinese government and WWF, who have established 67 reserves where they, and other species, are protected. They have also created bamboo corridors to link isolated areas of forest, thus enabling pandas to move freely and safely to find food and meet other groups of pandas.

The name “Panda” originates from the Nepalese words nigalya ponya and schemes such as extensive bamboo replanting in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province are helping to ensure the future is looking much brighter for these endearing animals.