05/24/2013 01:08 pm ET

Former French President's Panda Attack: Valery Giscard d'Estaing Recalls How Animal Jumped Him

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Pandas may appear warm and fluffy, but they can also be prone to act aggressively when threatened, as one French leader learned.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a former French president, recalled being attacked by a panda decades earlier while still in office to reporters at an event in France earlier this week. The 87-year-old said he was jumped by a panda when he dared to enter its cage while visiting his daughter who was interning at the Vincennes Zoo.

"I wanted to demonstrate the courage of a president," he explained. Fortunately, a guard was on hand to pull the animal off d'Estaing before it could harm him. "Imagine the comments if I had been brought down by the animal," d'Estaing quipped.

Though the panda attack occurred while the former French president was in office -- from 1974 to 1981 -- d'Estaing revealed the story to the media for the first time in a speech at the Loir-et-Cher 2020 conference in Blois on Tuesday.

The animal was one of two giant pandas that China gifted to Georges Pompidou, another former French president, in 1973.

Pandas are not characteristically violent, however they have been known to attack humans under certain circumstances.

"Although they are vegetarian bears, obviously at the end of the day pandas are still very powerful and muscular bears with teeth and claws to match," Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo in the United Kingdom, told BBC News. "You can go in [the cage] with young animals under the age of 2 years; however, after this age we really would not recommend it."

In 2011, a San Diego Zoo employee was bitten by a mother panda who barged through a gate during a morning feeding. At the time, spokeswoman Christine Simmons said the incident was the first time a panda had attacked anyone at the zoo.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, adult pandas can weigh up to 330 pounds and grow as tall as 4-feet in size. The giant panda is currently classified as an endangered species on IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.



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