It may be difficult to comprehend, but in the wild, an average panda will eat between 10 and 15 kilos of bamboo in just one day, and with an average panda weighing between 70-120kg, that means every 7-10 days they will eat their bodyweight in bamboo! In fact, pandas cannot hibernate as they are not able to store enough fat to keep them alive through the winter on their bamboo diet. They have to keep on eating!
WHY EAT SO MUCH? I hear you ask yourself, and it is a good question. Firstly, bamboo isn’t a particularly nutritious plant and although the green leaves are easier to consume, the stalk is chewy and tough and provides very few calories. Secondly, the digestive system of a giant panda is that of a carnivore’s, which means they are unable to digest plant matter particularly efficiently. A panda’s digestive system cannot digest the cellulose in bamboo which is why they eat so much of it for such long periods of the day.
I can still hear you asking why the giant panda eats so much bamboo, rather than other more nutritious food sources and the answer is quite simple – pandas are surrounded by bamboo in their natural habitat. Also, bamboo grows very quickly (some bamboo plants can grow at a rate of 0.00003 km/h) and is an abundant food source that is consumed by very few other animals, making it a reliable and plentiful option for the large, lazy giant panda.
One of the reasons bamboo is becoming so popular in the manufacture of bamboo toilet rolls and bamboo kitchen rolls is the speed at which it grows!
It has also been claimed by some scientists that bamboo produces what is know as a ‘reward response’ in the panda’s brain – this is the same as the ‘happy feelings’ we humans feel when we consume fatty or sugary foods, so don’t feel too bad for the giant panda when you see them painstakingly chomping on the tough stalks of the bamboo – they are giving themselves a big dopamine hit at the same time!