Written in ‘The Annals of Five Emperors’, during the reign of Emperor Huang, some 4000 years ago, it is said that the mighty ruler would keep Giant Pandas for the purpose of fighting. In an ancient Chinese legend, again dating back some 4000 years, it tells of how a tribal leader named Huangdi once wielded wild animals to defeat a neighbouring tribe. Amongst the fearsome animals who bravely went into battle were leopards, tigers… and Pandas!
Upon seeing this, you may be forgiven for looking at the pandas we have today, lazing about in captivity, stuffing their black and white faces with bamboo, and think what happened to these mighty warriors? Well, let me tell you, our perception of the cute and cuddly peaceful panda is ill-informed, for they are sleeping giants, and you most certainly do not want to rouse one: as a drunken tourist once found out when he decided to climb into the Beijing Zoo panda enclosure!
It was September 19th, 2006, when the man in question visited the zoo. He was very keen on impressing his companion at the time, and upon arriving at the panda enclosure, he came up with the great idea of getting up close and personal with the bear so he could give it a friendly stroke.
Alas, his drunken love was unrequited, and the panda left the man with a leg that no longer really resembled a leg. Although they said the ‘wannabe-panda-whisperer’ was very lucky, as it should be noted that the pandas ‘biting force’ is one of the strongest of all mammals: amazingly sitting somewhere between the jaguar and the lion.
There is evidence that the Ancient Chinese knew of the pandas biting prowess, where according to the writer, Sima Xiangru, during the Han dynasty, some 2000 years ago, Emperor Hanwu kept a giant panda which had teeth so strong it could bite through the metal nails of a city gate. The panda, then known as Mo, was also known for eating metal cooking utensils left by campers in the wilderness, and for snacking on snakes and reptiles.
As we know, todays pandas mostly eat bamboo shoots - which in fact makes up 99% of their diet - so you could be forgiven for thinking that these bears are vegetarians. But because of the type of digestive system they have, the panda actually falls into the order of ‘carnivores’; and seeing that they’ve been around for some 20 million years, it’s safe to say that in the past they would have certainly eaten “other things”; whether metal pots and pans were on the menu I am not sure, but I very much doubt that 2006 was the first time a panda tasted ‘leg of man’.
Panda painting in progress.
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With the exception of artists, inventors, and teenagers - we humans are diurnal daytime creatures on the whole, and although it’s one thing to be out and about during the night in a street lit urban environment, it’s a very different scenario if you find yourself in, say… oh, I don’t know, a forest per se. Where, if you’re lucky, you may hear the unmistakable cry or hoot of an Owl: natures very own nocturne, a stark reminder of the unknown peril of night, and a creature that has featured heavily in myth and folklore throughout the ages.