Yes – pandas are very confident and comfortable swimmers.
You might think of pandas as cuddly and sedentary creatures, but they’re also very strong and surprisingly lean under all that fur!
A strict diet of bamboo, bamboo and more bamboo definitely helps keep the fat off.
The bear family
Like other members of the bear family, giant pandas are strong swimmers. Some mistakenly think the panda is a type of marsupial, but they’re actually placental mammals like other bears.
However they don’t typically spend much time in the water in the wild as they don’t hunt any marine life nor need to cross any significant rivers or masses of water in their natural environment.
How far can a panda swim?
We’re not aware of any official records set by pandas and there’s not much need for pandas to swim long distances in the wild, so it’s hard to say for sure.
What we do know is that pandas are very strong and that other members of the bear family are capable of swimming great distances.
The polar bear, for example, has been observed swimming continously for over 60 miles in the wild.
Pandas aren’t as well adapted for swimming as polar bears, but it’s possible that they too could cover miles by water if they needed to, thanks to their great strength and lighter frames.
How fast can a panda swim?
It’s really difficult to convince a panda to attempt any sort of speed record, on land or by sea.
When they do swim, it’s generally for fun rather than any practical need, so they’re rarely in a rush.
Pandas, in fact, are rarely in a rush at all (remember how they only move a few meters an hour in the wild if left to their own devices?).
Simple observation of pandas in captivity and in the wild suggest that they top out at no more than 10mph when swimming, which is still faster than the average human but much slower than many other animals.
For reference again, the polar bear, which is a much stronger natural swimmer, can reach speeds of 30mph in the water.
Luckily for pandas, they don’t hunt in the water and they don’t have any marine based predators, so there’s never really a need for them to rush when they’re in the water.
Do pandas ever swim underwater? How long can they hold their breath for?
Pandas rarely choose to swim underwater, prefering to paddle across the surface whenever they can.
They’re not well adapted to holding their breath for a long time and their eyesight isn’t well suited for underwater vision.
They also prefer to keep the fur on their head dry as wet fur around their eyes, ears and nose can interfere with their senses and temperature regulation.
Pandas rarely need to swim underwater as most of the water features they encounter in their natural habitat are navigable without diving.
Underwater swimming is much more common in mammals that hunt other marine life, but the giant panda doesn’t have any marine prey and so rarely needs to dive below the surface.
Do pandas enjoy swimming?
It certainly seems like they do! There are endless examples of pandas in captivity choosing to spend some of their free time bathing and playing in the water.
Adults and cubs of all ages engage in this activity when given the opportunity.
Pandas are quite fussy about the temperature, so water gives them a good way to cool off in the warmer months.
We’re not sure they’re so bothered about their hygiene… but it’s a nice upside for the zookeepers if the pandas get some regular bathing in too!
Pandas are also observed in the wild choosing to spend some of their leisure time in streams and pools when they come across them.
Pandas don’t strictly have any need to get into water as they don’t use it for protection or as a hunting ground, so their attraction to water is theorised to be purely for pleasure and entertainment.
It’s very common to find water features in panda enclosures around the world as experts have come to believe that it enriches the panda’s experience.