Not The Brown Bears You Were Looking For
Sheng-guo Fang, a researcher at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, theorizes that the gene for black fur in pandas is dominant and the gene for brown fur is recessive. Since pandas with brown & tan fur necessarily inherit copies of the recessive gene from both their parents and the chances that both parents carry the gene are ordinarily very low, the occurrence of brown & tan pandas hints at inbreeding within the isolated Qinling population.
(image via: Pawnation)
However, “the Qinling Mountains have shaped brown subspecies of other mammals, such as the Golden Takin,” notes Fang. Therefore it may be that what’s spurring the expression of brown and tan fur in Giant Pandas is not limited to Giant Pandas, being the result of environmental factors unique to the Qinling Mountains.
(images via: My Amazing Panda Adventure)
Over the past several thousand years, Giant Panda populations have not only decreased in number but their former ranges have become fragmented due to human encroachment. The Qinling Mountains are one of five mountain regions where pandas still live in the wild, and brown & tan pandas have only been recorded in this region. If inbreeding is the cause of their unusually colored coats, one might expect to see a similar phenomenon in some of the other Giant Panda concentrations but this has not happened.
(image via: My Amazing Panda Adventure)
To date, China’s Brown & Tan Giant Pandas remain a mystery wrapped in an enigma, not to mention being a challenge for panda researchers and biologists the world over. For the rest of us, the sight of a panda that’s not black & white is an eye-opener at least and a rare pleasure for certain!