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Poop? Yes, but not just any poop

Poop? Yes, but not just any poop
Because pandas have unusually inefficient digestive systems, they eat enormous amounts of bamboo, and eliminate enormous amounts, too. Photo shot in 2013. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

How far does your fascination with pandas extend?

That's the question behind this photo. I shot it one morning in 2013 at the San Diego Zoo, where legions of visitors queue up daily to see and learn all sorts of things about the zoo's three giant pandas. In fact, the zoo offers a special two-hour "Early morning with Pandas" tour for $99 a head.

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As the zoo Web pages note, pandas are "black and white and loved all over."

The zoo also reports that pandas spend more than 12 hours a day eating bamboo stalks and leaves, using their teeth to pull off the stalks' rough outer layers. In San Diego, keepers also serve up occasional carrots, yams, apples and biscuits.

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The animals typically live up to 20 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity, which the zoo calls "managed care." The males weigh up to 275 pounds, while the females get up to 220 pounds.

As for their poop, well, there's a lot of it for keepers to shovel every morning. And lots of people are eager to learn more about it, for all sorts of reasons.  It seems that pandas ate both meat and bamboo before settling into a bamboo-only diet about 2 million years ago. Nowadays, they digest just 17% of the bamboo they eat, the rest passing right through. It's because of that inefficiency that they have to spend most of their waking hours eating.

You can always count on travel to teach you something — but what? Travel is the substitute teacher who didn't get the lesson plan, the adjunct lecturer who starts with a beach town and goes off on animal excrement, the grad assistant who trashes your poetry, then hands out red velvet cupcakes. If only you'd had a clue what was coming, right?

This gallery is built from new and old adventures in the West and the world beyond. The words and photos are all mine.

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Twitter: @mrcsreynolds

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