An Endangered Species On The Decline
Giant pandas are one of the most popular and well-known animals on the list of endangered species. There are approximately 1,600 or so roaming the mountainous regions of Southwest China and about 300 live in captivity. When a panda shows signs of pregnancy, it’s an exciting time for animal caretakers, as they pamper the panda and prepare for the cub’s arrival. Now panda experts are accusing a female panda of feigning a pregnancy to get this better treatment.
Taipei Zookeepers Get An Unexpected Surprise
When Yuan Yuan panda started exhibiting hints of pregnancy, theTaipei Zoo caretakers were excited to prepare for her delivery. With less than 1/4 of captive females giving birth, it’s no surprise that any panda showing signs of expectancy is great joy for zookeepers.
She began showing the usual symptoms: loss of appetite, thickening of the uterus and a higher concentration of progesterone in her droppings all pointed to a sudden pregnancy. Yuan Yuan was artificially inseminated earlier this year, so everything seemed to be going according to plan.
The Ultrasound Revealed An Unfortunate Result
China’s Southern Metropolis Daily states that ultrasounds determined Yuan Yuan’s pregnancy was a false alarm. Panda experts and the Chinese newsgroup Xinhua are claiming the panda feigned pregnancy in order to get special treatment from caretakers.
Once pregnant, captive female pandas are treated like royalty. They get moved into their own rooms with air-conditioning and showered with buns, fruit and bamboo. They also receive round-the-clock attention and care from the zookeepers.
History of Successful Births And False Alarms
The experts who claim Yuan Yuan feigned her pregnancy say it’s likely because of her successful birth to Yuan Zai, the female cub born in 2013. That is to say, they claim it’s learned behavior from her previous treatment.
On the other hand, female panda Ai Hin, who was slated to be the first panda to give birth on a live broadcast last year, was also accused of pretending to show signs of pregnancy in exchange for the royal treatment. Ai Hin, who resides at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, showed the same prenatal symptoms two months before they determined she wasn’t actually harboring a cub in her tummy.
Wu Jongju from the Chengdu Research Base is one of the many experts who believe the behavior is purposely faked to indulge in more food and care.
After showing prenatal signs, the panda ‘mothers-to-be’ are pampered. So some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life.
Disagreement Among Experts
Many panda experts in the field disagree with the claims made by researchers such as Jongju. Zhang Heming is the director of the China Research and Conversation Center for the Giant Panda. According to The Guardian, Heming states that pseudo-pregnancies are fairly common among pandas, both captive and wild. He further explains it’s hormonal rather than learned behavior.
This phenomenon occurs in 10 to 20 percent of pandas. After the mother panda is inseminated, if her health isn’t so good, the pregnancy will terminate, but she’ll still behave as if she’s pregnant.
A report from LiveScience also show that while pseudo-pregnancies exist, scientists aren’t exactly sure why they happen and whether they pose an benefit or purpose to the animals.
Saving The Species, One Birth At A Time
Whatever the case is, panda births are on the rise thanks to scientific advancements in artificial insemination. The record for the oldest panda in captivity has also been broken this year. Along with last year’s birth of panda triplets, it seems the year of the panda has fallen upon us.
Check out rare footage of last year’s panda cubs opening their eyes, the world’s only known surviving set of panda triplets!