Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why is it so difficult to increase the pandas population?

Figure 1: Panda eating bamboo

The giant panda - a shy, illusive and gentle creature - has been known as the Chinese national treasure. This adorable species is considered the most powerful symbol for animal conservation around the world. As we all may know, the giant pandas are greatly endangered due to centuries of human expansion and the destruction of the habitat. Their population once reached the plateau of 600 pandas in the wild. In the past 50 years, Chinese government has invested millions of dollars and great effort to bring back the panda population to 1,864 in the wild (according to WWF). I, personally, love giant pandas. And I’m sure many of you guys also do. Therefore, I’d like to talk about pandas and why is it so difficult and time consuming to increase the panda population.

For a very long time, people thought that pandas belong to the raccoon family. However, fossil evidence suggests that the modern giant pandas are descended from  Pygmy Giant Panda (Ailuropoda microta), which was found in the region of South China. Researchers have found that pandas has evolved for more than 3 millions years as a separate lineage than that of other bears. Pandas in the wild are mostly found in the South and East regions of China, northern Vietnam and northern Myanmar. The giant pandas is classified as an carnivoran, however, their diet is mainly herbivorous: primarily bamboo. Their digestive system is designed to digest meat, however, they only eat bamboo, which are poor of nutrients, and some other few fruits or vegetables such as apples, carrots,...This is the reason why pandas eat so much throughout the day. Estimation of the amount of bamboo consumed by an adult panda is about 50-60 lbs a day (25-30 kg approximately). Therefore, each panda requires a very large living area. The increase of Chinese population and the expansion of the human living space towards mountains and forest are the major contributor to the destruction of panda’s habitat. However, these are not the only reasons why it is so difficult to increase their population

Figure 2: Panda watching video of other pandas mating

When it comes to reproduction, very similar to humans, pandas are very particular when choosing their partners. As mentioned above, panda are very solitary and shy animals. Adult pandas live on their own in the wild. Therefore, it is very hard for them to find partners. On top of that, the female reproductive system is also very particular about the time of ovulation, which only lasts for 36 hours once a year. In addition, researchers have found that not all the males are “in the mood” for mating during mating seasons. Fun fact: In a Chinese panda base, a few of the pandas need visual stimulation to keep them “in the mood” of mating. Panda nannies set up TVs with videos of other pandas mating in their cages to induce the desire of mating in pandas (just like pornography in humans society). Combining all these factors, it is very difficult for a pair of pandas to reproduce. After the natural mating, scientists quickly sedate the females and perform artificial insemination to make sure increase the chance of having panda cubs.

Figure 3: Panda keeper in the special program

They not only have a very challenging reproductive process, the growing process in panda cubs is also very difficult. The moms can only give birth to one panda cub every year or luckily a twin. However, the moms usually favor the stronger one over the other. Weaker ones usually end up dying. Panda cubs are born without fur and very fragile, their body temperature is all dependent on the mom. As we all know, all the pandas are equally precious since their population is so small. Therefore, in the panda bases, the weaker ones are raised with extra care in a nursing room by panda keepers. All conditions given to the panda cubs are similar to as if they were raised by the mom. As they grow stronger, they are brought back to be raised by the mom.

Figure 4: Baby panda playing
From all the factors above, most panda are artificially bred in the panda base or zoo, where they are treated as pets: eat, sleep and play with others. Many people wonder how pandas survive in the wild when they have no experiences and exposure to the wild at all. To answer this, in China, all panda cubs are now raised in a special program where they can grow up in a wild-like environment: exposing to potential predator and cage-free. Consequently, they can be released to the wild and able to live with minimal problems

I hope this post will help you understand a little bit more about the giant pandas. Also, I’m more than happy to learn more about pandas! Please share your opinions and thoughts. 

-Posted by Phi Duong (Group A)


  1. It's unfortunate that breeding these fascinating animals is so difficult. It's interesting to see that while we were a massive factor in their population decline, even with human aid it's impossible to convince them to breed by themselves. Hopefully the program that raises them to survive in the wild will take off and be more successful in expanding wild panda populations.

    Posted by Mark Glasman

    1. Hi Mark,
      I also agree that this species is very difficult to breed. I have also heard many debates about whether this species is worth saving or not. I certainly think that pandas are very worth saving since bamboo grows at a rapid rate, yet it is not a high nutrient plant. With the help of panda, the ecosystem in these areas can be remain balance. I also hope that the program will give promising outcomes
      Phi Duong

  2. Sweet article. I love pandas, too! They seem so down to Earth and friendly. Hopefully conservation efforts are successful and pandas begin to thrive in the wild once again. It was really interesting to see the picture of the person in the panda suit! It would be a dream job to work with pandas! Also the pandas watching porn bit was surprising! I guess it's for science but I couldn't help but laugh at the researchers efforts! Nice!

    -Michael Salhany