With only about 1,800 specimens left in the wild, all giant pandas are precious. However, Qi Zai, a seven-year-old that resides at the Foping Panda Valley in China’s Shaanxi province, is even more so. That’s because he is amongst a handful of giant pandas known to have brown and white fur and the only such specimen in captivity. However, while the 220-pound Qi Zai is now the superstar of the animal world, life has not always been easy.
Abandoned by his mother when he was just two months old, Qi Zai spent his early years at the Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue Center. Once he had been nursed back to health, the giant panda cub was transferred to his current home so that he could be in the company of other giant pandas. However, the other bears appeared to realize that Qi Zai was “different” and often bullied him by stealing his bamboo.
The officials have since moved him to his own enclosure and assigned him a full-time keeper. He Xin, who spends 18 hours a day looking after Qi Zai, says the adorable giant panda is slower than his black and white peers. He takes longer to respond when called by his name and also eats at a sluggish pace. But that does not stop Qizai from devouring a healthy diet of Chinese flour buns, milk, and as much as 44 pounds of bamboo every day.
Qi Zai belongs to a subspecies of giant pandas commonly referred to as Qinling pandas, a nod to the remote Qinling Mountains where they reside. While many of area’s giant pandas sport small brown patches on their bellies, only seven, including Qi Zai, have been observed to have fur that is entirely brown.
Researchers are not sure of the cause. Some speculate that the brown fur is a result of a recessive gene. Others believe it is due to the climate or an environmental chemical in the Quinling area that is affecting one or more of the pigmentation genes. Scientists are hoping that they will be able to find some clues by observing Qi Zai’s offspring and are currently in search of a mate for this beautiful, fluffy animal!
Resources: dailymail.co.uk, treehugger.com, pandasinternational.org