When Qizai was found by researchers in the Qinling Mountains in central China, the rare brown and white panda cub had been abandoned by his mother. Apparently, the black and white panda mom had wanted nothing to do with her unusual-looking offspring, so she neglected him and left the cub alone to fend for himself.
Researchers took the tiny cub to the nearby Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue, Breeding and Research Centre where he was treated and raised on milk from the center's other pandas, reports the Daily Mail. Growing up wasn't always easy for Qizai. He was often bullied by his fellow cubs, who would steal his bamboo.
Eventually the panda was moved to Foping Panda Valley, part of a nature reserve in south Shaanxi Province. As Qizai grew, he was given his own enclosure where no one pestered him about his bamboo, keeper Xi He told the Daily Mail.
"He is slower than the other pandas, but he is also cuter," He said. The keeper described Qizai as a "gentle, funny and adorable" animal.
On a diet of bamboo (44 pounds a day), milk and Chinese flour buns, Qizai has now grown to 220 pounds, which is an average size for a 7-year-old panda.
But there's nothing average about Qizai when it comes to his looks. Researchers believe that brown and white pandas are likely the result of a double recessive gene and possibly inbreeding, making the pandas exceedingly rare.
"The habitat in the Qinling Mountains is seriously fragmented and the population density is very high," Tiejun Wang, a spatial ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands, told the journal Nature. "The brown pandas could be an indication of local inbreeding."
There have been only five documented sightings of brown and white pandas since 1985. Some believe Qizai may be the only brown and white panda in the world and he's the only known one in captivity.
Researchers are looking for a mate for the panda, hoping that they will be able to study his offspring to learn more about the genetics that create this unusual coloring.