Brown panda origins not ‘black and white’, say scientists Published: 2013-8-25 18:15:00

Brown panda Qizai Photo:

Photos and video of a rare brown-and-white panda at a wildlife center in Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province have recently gone viral online, once again raising questions as to its biological origins. 

The four-year-old male, named ‘Little Seven’ (Qizai), is the only one of five confirmed brown pandas discovered since 1985 and is the only one in captivity, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Qizai was first spotted as a two-month-old cub in the Foping Natural Nature Reserve near Shaanxi’s Qinling Mountain range nearly four years ago. Experts explain that the area is the only one to boast brown pandas. Around 300 pandas live here, roughly 20 percent of the total panda population.

While reasons for the unusual color remain a mystery, one expert who has worked at the Foping Reserve for 20 years suggests it may be a result of a recessive gene and inbreeding. 

"The habitat in the Qinling Mountains is seriously fragmented and the population density is very high," Tiejun Wang, a spatial ecologist at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands, was quoted in science journal Nature. "The brown pandas could be an indication of local inbreeding."

Panda keepers at the research center plan to mate Qizai next year to see whether he can pass on the gene, according to Xinhua.

Dandan, the first brown panda discovered in 1985, was mated with a black-and-white panda and sired three cubs, none of which were brown. Dandan died of cancer in 2000.

Brown panda Qizai Photo:

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