Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are beloved around the world for their striking black and white coats and charming behavior. The giant panda is known as the panda bear, bamboo bear, or in Chinese as Daxiongmao, the “large bear cat”; in fact, its scientific name means “black and white cat footed animal.”


A child watches one of the pandas on exhibit
at the Smithsonian National Zoo.
Credit: Wade Sisler CC-BY 2.0

Wild giant pandas are found in the mountains of central China in dense bamboo and coniferous forests at altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet. Driven nearly to extinction by habitat loss and poaching, these elusive and secretive mammals are among the rarest in the world, with only an estimated 1,800 remaining in the wild.

The low reproductive rate of giant pandas makes them more vulnerable to threats and extinction. China has established a system of nature reserves to protect the species’ forested mountain habitat, and implements conservation and captive breeding programs to protect populations in the wild and to ensure a stable population of giant pandas in captivity.

China has long extended gifts and loans of giant pandas to zoos across the globe as symbols of friendship. Americans have delighted in seeing these goodwill ambassadors at zoos in the United States since Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing came to the United States during President Nixon’s time in office.

Laws & Regulations

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) listed the giant panda as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1984. The species is also listed under Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These international and domestic regulations prohibit the use and international trade of the species for commercial purposes.

Today, giant pandas in the U.S. are on loan from China as part of robust scientific conservation programs authorized by the Service and coordinated through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Giant Panda Species Survival Plan (SSP) to support China's giant panda conservation programs and enhance the long term survival of the species. Participating institutions hold permits under the ESA and CITES.

Guidance for institutions wishing to import pandas to implement scientific research as part of this long term commitment to giant panda conservation is provided through the United States Policy on Giant Panda Import Permits pdf, also known as the Panda Policy. For more information on this policy, be sure to read the Giant Panda Policy factsheet pdf.