Science News

Quick Fire Science: Giant panda breeding

Mon, 16th Sep 2013

Dominic Ford, Kate Lamble

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Shedding Light on the Brain

Here’s Dominic Ford and Kate Lamble with this week’s Quick Fire Science.Male Giant Panda

-          Giant pandas are native to only a small mountainous region in central China. There are thought to be no more than 3,000 of the animals remaining in the wild, and 300 living in captivity.

-          Bamboo makes up 99% of a panda’s diet, but its nutritional value is so poor that each animal must eat between 30 and 60 kilograms each day.

-          That bamboo also contains so much fibre that panda may need to… empty their bowels… up to 40 times a day.

-         To compound the problem, pandas have a digestive system similar to that of other bears, adapted for eating meat rather than a vegetarian diet.

-         Their poor diet means that mother pandas have little energy to spare on raising cubs, and their babies are tiny and almost completely helpless at birth.

-         Even after a year, panda cubs have typically grown to only a third of their full adult weight.

-          In the womb, panda foetuses are unusual in that they do not implant until several weeks into the pregnancy, making it difficult to tell whether a female is pregnant.

-         Normally a spike in the hormone progesterone a few weeks before birth tells vets that a female is expecting, but while Tian Tian – the panda in Edinburgh zoo – had such a spike last month, her hormone have since shown contradictory signs.

-         Breeding captive pandas is especially difficult as males usually fight over females in the wild, and this seems essential to building up a male’s libido.

-         Moreover, female panda only ovulate once a year, meaning that there is only a 36-hour window each year in which she can become pregnant.

-         Pandas have become endangered because of habitat loss in China due to more intensive farming.

-         Even though there are now extensive conservation efforts, their slow rate of breeding means populations grow incredibly slowly.

    Zoo keepers in Edinburgh have said this week that they’re uncertain whether a giant panda in the city’s zoo might give birth to a cub. But why is it so notoriously difficult to get pandas to breed in captivity, and how can there be so much doubt over whether a panda is pregnant?


Subscribe Free

Related Content

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society