The Panda

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There perhaps aren’t many animals more beloved in the world than the giant panda. They look so cuddly!  And, to hear the docent at the panda enclosure at the Atlanta zoo tell it, they are not vicious and don’t attack, but their sharp claws keep their keepers from going into the cage where they might get accidentally wounded by the large bears.

They now live in the wild only in mountainous areas of China between 5,000 to 10,000 feet.  Males can reach 250 pounds with females rarely exceeding 220 pounds.  They are on the endangered species list and only 1600 are believed to be left in the wild, with 300 more in zoos around the world.

In the wild, their diet is 99% bamboo. Adults are very solitary creatures. Baby pandas will stay with the mother for 1-1/2 to three years before going out on their own.  The cubs, at birth, weigh just 3-5 ounces and are about the size of butter.  They are less than 1/900th the weight of their mother when born, and next to certain marsupials, are the smallest mammals at birth compared to the mother’s birth weight.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1827,  a group of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans,  marking the beginning of Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

Though early French settlers brought the tradition of Mardi Gras to Louisiana at the end of the 17th century, Spanish governors later banned the celebrations. After Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803, New Orleanians managed to convince the city council to lift the ban on wearing masks and partying in the streets. The city’s new Mardi Gras tradition began in 1827 when the group of students, inspired by their experiences studying in Paris, donned masks and jester costumes and staged their own Fat Tuesday festivities.

The parties grew more and more popular, and in 1833 a rich plantation owner named Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. After rowdy revelers began to get violent during the 1850s, a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus staged the first large-scale, well-organized Mardi Gras parade in 1857.

Over time, hundreds of krewes formed, building elaborate and colorful floats for parades held over the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Riders on the floats are usually local citizens who toss “throws” at passersby, including metal coins, stuffed toys or those now-infamous strands of beads. Though many tourists mistakenly believe Bourbon Street and the historic French Quarter are the heart of Mardi Gras festivities, none of the major parades have been allowed to enter the area since 1979 because of its narrow streets.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  In Ancient Rome, women tried to dye their hair blonde with pigeon dung. In Renaissance Venice, they used horse urine.

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