What Can Brown Do For You?
Since arriving at the reserve, Qizai has thrived and grown to a healthy adult size and weight. Researchers at the center plan to breed Qizai next year but whether his offspring will share his unique (among captive pandas) coloration is a question without any certain answer at this time. That’s because scientists and panda experts aren’t exactly certain why pandas very rarely exhibit brown & white coats.
(image via: Bears Of The World)
One thing we do know is that only 7 brown & tan Giant Pandas have been recorded since 1985. The first of these, named Dan-Dan by researchers, was also found in the Foping area. Dandan was taken to the Panda Study Center where, after mating with black & white pandas, would eventually give birth to three normally colored offspring that unfortunately all died young.
Though Qizai seems to be a robust and healthy specimen, infant mortality issues combined with the very small (an estimated 200–300) and isolated population of Giant Pandas in the Qinling Mountains would seem to support inbreeding as a possible cause for brown & tan coats. Things aren’t that simple, however, since most “Qinling Pandas” already have patches of brown hair intermixed with their black fur.
(image via: My Amazing Panda Adventure)
The occurrence of brown fur plus recently noted differences in bone structure compared to the more common Sichuan Giant Panda prompted scientists in 2005 to declare the Qinling Pandas to be a distinct panda subspecies: Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis. Besides having brown fur to a greater or lesser degree, these pandas have generally smaller skulls with larger molar teeth.