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Sighting of Brown & White Panda

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 20th, 2010

It is unfortunate that the new sighting of a brown and white panda is now being presented in some sort of genetic crisis framework without the encounter merely being examined without an editorial context. But such is this day and age, when the media decides to deliver the news less than straightforwardly.

The first reports of finding the cub surfaced late last year, in November 2009.

“This is the fifth time Chinese officials have observed pandas in such a rare color. The first one called ‘Dandan’ was spotted in 1985. It was also found in Foping. She later gave birth to three normal pandas but none of them survived,” noted the Digital Journal.

Here’s the way this breaking new sighting and story are being reported today in Indian newspapers and the Indian edition of a South African paper:

The recent sighting of an extremely rare giant panda with brown and white fur is raising fears that the species may be suffering from inbreeding. 

In November 2009, a staff member at the Foping Nature Reserve in China’s Qinling Mountains – one of the panda’s last remaining strongholds – spotted a panda with the unusual colouring. 

It was estimated to weigh around 2 kilograms, which would suggest it was less than 2 months old at the time. 

This is only the seventh such animal spotted in the region over the past 25 years, Tiejun Wang, a spatial ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands, told Nature News. 

But the explanation for this unusual variety remains a mystery. 

“It’s time we had a debate about what is causing this because it could be telling us something very important,” said Wang. 

Wang and his Twente colleague Andrew Skidmore are concerned that the brown-and-white form indicates that breeding between closely related pandas is becoming more common.

Each panda has two versions, or alleles, of each of its genes, one inherited from its mother and one from its father. 

Wang suggested that the Qinling pandas carry a dominant gene for black fur and a recessive gene for brown fur. 

This means that pandas with brown-and-white fur are only possible when they inherit the recessive brown gene from both mother and father. 

The chances that both parents have the brown allele are ordinarily very low, suggested Wang. 

But the coincidence would be much more likely if the pandas were closely related.

“The habitat in the Qinling Mountains is seriously fragmented and the population density is very high,” said Wang. 

“The brown pandas could be an indication of local inbreeding,” he added. 

Conservationists worry about such inbreeding because it means that more animals rely on the same set of genetic defences to overcome environmental threats, increasing their risk of extinction. 

According to Wang, brown-and-white pandas have only been seen in the Qinling population, one of five mountain regions where pandas still live in the wild. 

Qinling is home to around 300 animals, roughly one-sixth of the total panda population in the wild. 

The first recorded brown-and-white panda – a female called Dan-Dan – was discovered in 1985. 

She was taken into captivity, mated with a black-and-white animal and gave birth to a normal black-and-white male. 

A few years later, another brown-and-white panda was seen in the wild, together with its black-and-white mother. 

“These anecdotal observations strongly suggest the presence of a recessive gene or genes,” said Wang.

What at the time was the world’s only brown-and-white panda died suddenly on November 23, 2006, at a zoo in northwest China. It was 17 years old and named Qin Qin (shown below).


Loren Coleman – has written 5491 posts on this site.
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


4 Responses to “Sighting of Brown & White Panda”

  1. JMonkey responds:

    qin qin, looks like a dirty black and white panda, but it is probably just a poor picture. I think they are jumping to conclusions on this. Next we will be needing to capture and transport Pandas between breeding locations to promote diversity. I believe this just happens occasionally. I had chickens as a child and sometimes my all black Chickens would throw a white one out, or a splash (white with black or brown sporadic feathers). It is simply a genetic throwback and it happens. I have seen the same in horses and cattle. Now if they have several in one year from several different parents then that would be alarming, but one does not seem like an emergency to me.

  2. cryptidsrus responds:

    Everybody say the obligatory “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!
    Now that THAT’S out of the way:

    Hey, it may be that there IS some inbreeding issues involved. If so, they may need to be addressed. Although I understand where you’re coming from, Loren. The detection of a very rare type of Panda should be news enough in of itself.

    To be honest, the problem is that many people simply don’t care about stuff like this unless one puts it into SOME sort of context. Sad but true. I just hope the little critter is able to get the care it needs. If it took the news there might be a “problem” to get folks to deal with the Panda, then so be it.
    But, again, I DO see where you are coming from, Loren.

  3. kittenz responds:

    There is one population of giant pandas (which may actually be a separate species or subspecies) in which some individuals have brown and white fur. They may have been more common in the past, before pandas became critically endangered. I found a photo of one and will post a link to it when I have time to search for it.

    All pandas are exceedingly rare in the wild, and brown & white ones more so than black & white, but I seriously doubt that the brown & white pandas are a specific indication of a genetic crisis in pandas. There IS a population bottleneck, and that in itself is a crisis, but it appears that there have always been a few brown & white pandas.

  4. CryptoMatt responds:

    Seems like its just another recessive coloring pattern, they happen in a lot of animals. The only example that I can think of off the top of my head would be the Kermode Black Bears. White but not albino. The current estimates are that 1/10 bears in the population will be born with this coloring pattern.

    Wouldn’t the fact that this recessive appearance is so rare be a sign that their isn’t a remarkable amount of interbreeding? Unless I’m wrong I was under the impression that one of the major signs of interbreeding was that recessive traits become far more prevalent then in a normal population. (Thus recessive genes like those for cystic fibrosis, a truly nasty genetic disease in humans, which would normally be covered have a better chance of being crippling to the population) If there was a bunch of these pandas being born I think I’d be worried but with only a few cases of this coloring pattern I’m not really concerned.



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