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Nothing Lesser About These Animals

Sidebar: What's In a Name?

Mystery cloaks the origins of the word panda. One theory describes it as Nepalese for “small, cat-like creature.” But the most authoritative source, red panda expert Angela Glatson of the Rotterdam Zoo, writes in her recently released book, Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda, that “the most likely theory is that it comes from one of the local names for the red pandas, nigalya ponya.” The first word means “bamboo.” The second may be a variation of ponja, a name for the ball of the foot. “If this is correct,” Glatson says, “then nigalya ponya may mean bamboo footed, an appropriate name for either panda.”

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Smithsonian Zoogoer 41(1) 2012. Copyright 2012 Friends of the National Zoo. All rights reserved.