Do Pandas Attack Humans? Find Out How Dangerous They Are

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 26th September 2023

pandas attack
Do pandas attack humans? | Hung_Chung_Chih via Getty Images

Bears are some of the cutest, but fiercest animals in the animal kingdom, and there are eight species that live around the world.

While panda bears are not the largest of bears, their distinctive appearance makes them some of the most known, and loved.

Due to their appearance there has been some confusion whether pandas are actually bears. 

Molecular studies proved these animals to be true bears, related to other ursids like the polar bear, brown bear, and black bear.

The deadliest land predators that live in North America, Europe and Asia include the brown bears, which include subspecies like the grizzly bear, and kodiak bear.

Bears are known for their fearsome size, and the largest land predator today is the polar bear.

pandas attack
Pandas of Sichuan, China | fototrav via Getty Images

In Central China in a few forest mountain ranges in the Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi provinces, pandas sit peacefully at the top of their ecosystem. 

In their environments pandas face very little natural predators, due to their size, sharp claws, and powerful bite. 

Compared to the largest types of bears, pandas are one of the smallest, and only weigh on average 113 kgs (250 lbs). 

You may have wondered if pandas attack humans, and are dangerous bears like many of their relatives. 

Pandas have all the tools to harm humans, and this article will cover if they are aggressive as some may say. 

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Demystifying Panda Behavior

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The panda’s distinguishable colors | Wirestock via Getty Images

The black and white colors of the panda are defining traits that distinguish them from other bears.

These bears stand at around 0.6 to 0.9 meters (2 to 3 ft.) in height, and when standing on all fours are about 1.2 to 1.8 meters (4 to 6 ft.) in length. 

On average pandas have a size ranging between 68 to 127 kgs. (150 to 280 lbs.), with males being around 10% larger and 20% heavier females. 

Native to China, giant pandas are seen as symbols of strength, peace, and go along with China’s cultural belief of yin and yang. 

Temperate forests high in mountains of Central China up to 1,500 to 3,000 meters (5,000 to 10,000 feet) are where pandas reside. 

Dense bamboo forests are where pandas live, and they spend their days grazing their serene environment alone. 

Bears have a diet that varies across each species, but pandas are one of the most herbivorous of all bears. 

Giant pandas spend their mornings grazing for bamboo, and by the afternoon they are soon ready to call it a day.

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Pandas enjoying their feast! | Wirestock via Getty Images

Due to the large amount of food pandas need to survive, these bears can get territorial, and guard their sacred food source from others.

Giant pandas do not interact with other species, and typically stay away from each other unless mating.

Like other bears, pandas are capable of getting very aggressive, and they sometimes attack smaller animals to eat them, or guard their home. 

Studying the behavior of pandas in the wild is essential in keeping their populations healthy, and learning more about how these bears interact with their environment.

Being the top predator in their environment, pandas do not really have any threats, but they do face humans as a challenge like other animals. 

It is important for humans to understand how pandas view them, so they can safely study them in the wild without feeling like a threat when in their territory.

In most circumstances pandas are not aggressive towards humans, but like all animals they may attack if they are threatened, or other underlying issues.

Panda Aggression: Fact or Fiction?

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Two giant pandas fighting at forest | lzf via Getty Images

The giant panda today is seen as a strong symbol of strength in China, but these animals have a deep history within the country.

In the ancient times of China panda symbolism was still prevalent, and the animal was considered invincible and stronger than the tiger. 

Pandas in China have always been held with high esteem, and represent ideas like the balance of life, and power.

Being seen as a symbol, the giant panda has picked up several myths, and misconceptions of how they actually are in the wild.

Pandas and all bears are often sold as teddy bears, and are seen being very cute, and cuddly.

Giant pandas, often considered the cutest animals in China, like other bears can be extremely dangerous. 

In the wild these animals are rarely encountered, and their populations are restricted to about six mountain ranges.

Pandas do not encounter humans often in the wild, and they will typically avoid encounters, and do not like to fight. 

The villages that live near the pandas are important in learning more about these giant mammals, and are at the biggest threat in getting attacked by one in the wild. 

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What the panda can do | Hung_Chung_Chih via Getty Images

Pandas are not as cuddly as they seem in their portrayals, and have all the tools needed to attack, and kill a human. 

Pandas rely on a diet of mostly bamboo, so they will not attempt to attack a human to eat them.

In cartoons, movies, and kids toys pandas are seen as friendly animals, but there have been instances in the wild where they have attacked humans. 

The solidarity of giant pandas and their small natural range make it extremely unlikely for humans to come in contact with these bears when compared with other types of bears. 

Their small bamboo forests in the Chinese mountains is where most pandas live, but a large portion of their population exists in captivity.

In captivity is when most pandas and humans interact, and these include places like breeding centers, and zoos.

Even in a controlled setting pandas sometimes show acts of aggression, and in some cases attack.

The majority of zoos that house pandas are in China, but some countries like Australia, the United States, Russia, Mexico, and Japan also have a zoo with a panda in it. 

With panda attacks both occurring in captivity and the wild, these bears may be more aggressive than they seem.

Factors Influencing Panda Behavior

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Panda in its natural habitat | JIE GAO via Getty Images

Understanding the behaviors of pandas and how they think is essential for those that work with the animal, or live nearby their natural habitats. 

Usually pandas are peaceful beings that prefer to keep to themselves, but in some cases they become extremely aggressive, or defensive over their territory. 

Humans encroaching on the habitats of pandas has been a historical issue, with their overall habitat decreasing by 5% from 1976 to 2001, as well as the average size of their habitat decreasing by 23%.

Since these numbers have been recorded the current data suggests the size and abundance of pandas habitat has increased.

By limiting the areas that wild pandas live, and decreasing their supply of food this may result in them becoming more aggressive due to more stress. 

In captivity pandas are also limited in space, and while attacks in this setting are rare; they are still under stress from outside factors, and may be prone to attack. 

With their large size, pandas can run up to 32 kilometers (20 mph.), and before attacking if they are threatened they would rather escape. 

In cases where pandas attack it is typically since they are defending territory, or their young.

Acts of aggression from pandas unprovoked are uncommon, and understanding their behavior will take us further if figuring out why pandas attack.

Breeding season may influence a panda’s behavior, causing them to become more restless.

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Two pandas marking their territories | OSTILL via Getty Images

Pandas are already territorial animals, but for several months in the spring they become more territorial with each other, and use their scents to mark their area.

Male pandas may become more aggressive, and guard their area for potential mates to prevent other males from coming. 

In the wild pandas are typically solitary, and aggressive with other pandas, but for the short mating season they come together for a short period.

Communication is key between pandas when mating so they both understand they are non aggressive.

Female pandas use a chirping sound to call nearby mates.

 When approaching each other pandas will use a low bleat noise to signal they are not aggressive. 

Pandas also may become more aggressive after giving birth, and be fiercely defensive over her young. 

Once a panda cub is born they are under constant surveillance from her mother.

For about 6 months panda cubs are reliant on their mother for milk, until they leave the next year when she gets pregnant again. 

Real-Life Panda-Human Encounters

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Must be the cool pandas’ seats, huh? | mchen007 via Getty Images

In the wild and captivity pandas and humans have encounters with each other regularly.

Most of the encounters we have with pandas are beneficial, and help us learn more about the species.

When breeding pandas in captivity humans must closely monitor them, since pandas can only successfully breed for a short period. 

Female giant pandas only have between 24 to 72 hours in their multiple month breeding season where they can successfully conceive a cub.

By examining the behaviors and hormones of pandas their caretakers are able to tell when they are ovulating, and successfully breed them to preserve the species. 

The low numbers of giant pandas is what caused China to begin to attempt to captively breed them in 1955.

Due to the expertise, and professionalism from those that work in captive breeding programs there has been very little instances of pandas getting aggressive.

Close calls from panda attacks have occurred in zoos, like the three that happened in the Beijing Zoo.

The three panda attacks that occurred from 2006 to 2009 in the Panda House in the Beijing Zoo was a wake up call for many people that pandas could be vicious, and dangerous. 

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The Panda House of Beijing Zoo was built in 1991. | snowyowls via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The first attack at the zoo was when a drunk visitor jumped into the panda enclosure, and he was shortley mauled, and damaged with several lacerations from bites. 

The two other people attacked by a giant panda in the Beijing Zoo fell into the animals enclosure, and were bitten severely.

From those that were attacked by pandas at the Beijing Zoo emergency surgery was needed, as well as several stitches, and skin grafts since the damage was so severe. 

Conservationists that work in the wild in China are also at risk from panda attacks, and the several attacks that occurred in the wild have also proven these bears can be aggressive. 

In one incident a man was attacked when monitoring a panda that was being returned to the wild. 

Villagers that live near the panda’s natural habitat are in danger of panda attacks.

There have been cases like the one of the farmer near Sichuan province who had his leg bitten after a wild panda wandered near his land, or other similar attacks on villagers.

In China pandas have a deep history with the country, and residents that live near them respect the animals, and their habitat immensely, seeing them with the same awe as a mythical creature. 

Safety Measures and Responsible Tourism

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A panda in captivity | PhotoTalk via Getty Images

Seeing a panda in captivity, or the wild is extremely rare, since there are so few left in the world. 

Learning how to be safe when around pandas in the wild, or working with them in captivity is best since panda attacks can be life altering, and possibly deadly.

Panda keepers have learned not only all about the animal, but also how to mitigate the risks of working with such dangerous animals.

When caring for a panda its keeper may wear a panda suit, which helps them look like a panda, and prevent them from being stressed out. 

Since pandas are solitary they are also not kept together in captivity, and when cubs get old enough they are separated from their mother to prevent aggression. 

Organizations like the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding are amazing places to visit in China to get a glimpse at the giant panda and support their conservation. 

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Panda in the wild | Hung_Chung_Chih via Getty Images

Today in the wild it is estimated there are only about 1864 wild pandas left in the wild, and they are considered a vulnerable species. 

Since they are so popular it is also possible to go on a wild panda watching tour in China.

When visiting the regions that wild pandas live in it is important to be respectful, and not make any loud noises when near them. 

Several precautions are made for those who work around pandas in the wild, like not wearing perfume, and refraining from making threatening gestures towards them. 

Tourism to China and zoos directly support the panda populations, but taking the right measures like not jumping into their cage, or provoking them in the wild is needed to prevent them from attacking.

Panda Diets and Territory

What you got there, panda? | fototrav via Getty Images

In the wild pandas spend the majority of their time eating bamboo, and they can eat anywhere between 11 to 38 kgs.  (26 to 84 lbs) a day.

Bamboo shoots and leaves make up 99% of this bear’s diet, which is not uncommon for bears, with species like brown sometimes eating up to 90% plant material.

Since bamboo makes up this bear’s diet, they may get aggressive towards other pandas that get in their territory, but typically avoid confrontation.

Pandas are very versatile, able to swim, and even climb trees in their environments. 

Female pandas will guard their territory from other females, or young adults.

Pandas are territorial animals, and use secretions from their body to rub onto objects like tree trunks, rocks, or the ground to mark their territory. 

The strong sense of smell from pandas allows them to pick up the scents from other animals, and know when another panda is nearby for up to several miles away.

When humans go into a pandas territory there is a chance that they may attack, but these animals seem more docile than aggressive. 

Pandas vs. Other Bears: Assessing Danger

Different Types of Bears | Bullet_Chained via Getty Images

Pandas are typically seen as the less dangerous bear not only because of their cuteness level, but because of their size. 

At around the same size as a black bear when fully grown, pandas are dwarfed in size by species like the brown bear, or polar bear, which at its largest can weigh more than a ton.

The pandas’ low population, rarity, and solitary nature also contributes to how pandas are seen.

Since most people only have a chance at seeing pandas in captivity there is no sense of fear when seeing them, compared to having an encounter with any type of bear in the wild.

Being nearly a vegetarian also contributes to how pandas are seen, since other bears have a reputation for being deadly predators. 

The polar bear is currently the most dangerous bear on the planet, due to its massive size, and diet made of mostly meat. 

Polar bears, and giant pandas both live in extremely niche environments, but they can be dangerous for the humans that live near them.

Attacks from bears are rare in general, and there are around forty that occur yearly. 

Brown bears are the most common species to attack humans, and they are also one of the deadliest to encounter. 

The massive brown bear | Thomas Faull via Getty Images

Since brown bears evolved in treeless environments unlike pandas it has caused them to be more aggressive to potential threats.

Understanding the aggression of bears overall makes those who live around them safer.

When in a brown bear environment you should avoid keeping food that will attract them, or going out in the wilderness during their breeding season. 

Black bears may be similar to pandas, since they rarely attack, and if approached will typically flee.

Behavioral triggers that cause a bear to attack may be similar across species.

Some of the reasons bears of any species may attack could be since it is defending its territory, young, or feels threatened and cannot flee.

Polar bear attacks typically occur in the summer, when sea ice has melted the most, and it is the warmest time of the year.

Factors like habitat destruction, and climate change not only put animals under more stress, but limit their resources, making it more likely for them to attack. 

Panda Disposition: Calm or Aggressive?

Under this calm demeanor is an aggressive panda | zorazhuang via Getty Images

Yin Yang is the perfect representation of the panda, as they exhibit both extreme calmness, but also aggressive tendencies. 

The panda overall is an animal known for its peaceful, and calm nature.

Like all bears, pandas are capable of doing extreme damage, as they are some of the largest land predators.

Wild animals live in an extremely competitive environment, so if they gauge something is a threat they may attack until they feel safe. 

The panda attacks that have been reported have only occurred since a human entered into a panda’s territory unexpectedly.

There have been no fatalities that have occurred due to panda attacks, which means they likely are not trying to kill when attacking, unlike other bear species. 

Wildlifes unpredictably is always a factor, but the majority of humans working with pandas have seen the nicer side of the animal. 

Giant pandas are calm animals, but prefer to be left alone, and typically only become aggressive if startled. 

When compared to the largest bear species in the world, pandas may seem calm, but they do seem to be much more aggressive than species like the sun bear.

Luckily the giant panda prefers to be left alone, as it has all the tools to be a blood thirsty predator. 

The Myth of Pandas Eating Humans 

This panda’s enjoying its meal | gui00878 via Getty Images

There has never been a documented case of a panda eating a human, but there have been some rumors about these bears eating humans. 

It is not often that a giant panda eats meat, but they would likely never go out of their way to hunt a human.

Pandas have a strong bite force of 2600 newtons (265 kgs.), and this was measured using a computer model of a 110.45 kg (243.5 lb) 3D bear.

There is no doubt pandas are physically capable of eating a human, and they even have a digestive tract of a carnivore. 

Herbivores like cows have multiple stomachs while bears have single chambered stomachs, with a short intestine. 

With an abundance of bamboo plants pandas will not even consider eating meat like a human, and if they do it will likely be a smaller animal it can easily capture. 

If a pandas does attack a human it would probably not be out of hunger.

Traits of the panda like their teeth, and pseudo-thumbs are evolutionary traits designed for their nearly herbivorous diet. 

It was only around 2 million years ago when pandas ancestors switched to a vegetarian diet. 

Ailurarctos is the earliest known ancestor of the giant panda, and they lived around 7 million years ago. 

Compared to other bears, pandas are highly specialized and evolved to eat bamboo, and they would be the least likely of the bears to eat humans. 

Conclusion

Pandas are fluffy, cute, and also a part of one of the fiercest families of mammals to exist.

Being a part of the Ursidae family they are related to other bears like polar bears, the sun bear, grizzly bear, and black bear. 

Pandas may in fact be one of the cutest bears, but they have many of the traits from their relatives that make them dangerous animals. 

While the diet of the panda consists mainly of bamboo, and they are much smaller than other bears, there have been several cases where pandas attack humans.

Pandas can be very aggressive, and while there have been no documented deaths from a panda, people have gotten severely injured. 

Giant pandas are a vulnerable species, and learning about what makes them aggressive, and their behavior can make it easier to preserve the species as a whole.

Animals like pandas may become aggressive for various reasons like feeling uncomfortable in an area, or when guarding its resources. 

As solitary creatures pandas prefer to be alone, and are beautiful creatures to admire from far if given the chance.

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