Photos of rare brown panda in Shaanxi published

Qizai the brown panda at the Shaanxi Province Rare Wildlife Rescue and Breeding Research Centre

Pandas are not always a matter of black-and-white: they can sometimes be brown.

Xinhua has published a set of photographs of a rare brown panda, a four-year-old male called Qizai or Little Seven, as he eats and plays at his home in mid-western China’s Shaanxi Province Rare Wildlife Rescue and Breeding Research Centre.

Qizai was first spotted in November 2009 when he was about two months old, in Shaanxi’s Foping National Nature Reserve - one of the country’s two giant panda natural reserves. Since then he has been living in the research centre, which plans to start him breeding next year to find whether his offspring will inherit his rare brown colour, according to Xinhua.

Just six brown pandas were discovered between 1985 and 2009, five of them in the Foping nature reserve. Panda experts also discovered a large amount of hair belonging to what they believed was an adult brown panda in western China’s Sichuan province, although they did not see the actual panda.

“No brown giant panda had been found in Gansu before,” said Ouyang Feng, director of the Giant Panda Department at the Animal Protection Bureau of Gansu Province, to the west of Shaanxi. “What may have caused the genetic change to brown pandas is unknown. However, genetic change could happen to all species including pandas.”

Scientists speculate that inbreeding may be the reason behind the rare brown colour, but it is hard to prove this theory. Many of the roughly 300 giant pandas living in the Foping nature reserve have some brown hair.

The first brown panda to be discovered in 1985, a female called Dandan or Red, was mated with a normal black-and-white giant panda and gave birth to three baby pandas, which were all black-and-white.

Dandan died of cancer in 2000. Her taxidermied remains have been preserved in the Foping nature reserve along with a photo of her holding a newborn panda.

The giant panda, an endangered species, is only found in a few mountain ranges in central China, as well as in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

It is estimated that fewer than 1600 pandas live in the wild, 233 live in captivity in China and another two dozen in captivity in other countries.

The giant panda typically lives up to 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.

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