Pandas pander to passion too

Scientists have found that when giant pandas in captive breeding experiments displayed no preference for a potential mate, their chances of successfully mating dropped to zero.
Scientists have found that when giant pandas in captive breeding experiments displayed no preference for a potential mate, their chances of successfully mating dropped to zero.PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

WASHINGTON • In pandas as in people, it appears that passion prevails.

Scientists studying captive breeding of the endangered bamboo-eating bears said pandas are far more likely to mate successfully and produce cubs when they show, through a complex series of behaviours, a preference for a potential mate.

When giant pandas in captive breeding experiments displayed no such preference, despite being deemed genetically suitable as a pair, their chances of successfully mating dropped to zero.

"Incorporating mate choice into conservation breeding programmes could make a huge difference for the success of many endangered species breeding programmes, increasing cost-effectiveness and overall success," said conservation biologist Meghan Martin-Wintle of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

The study involved more than 40 pandas at a conservation and research centre in China's Sichuan province.

Pandas were put in large open-air enclosures where they could choose between two potential mates.

When both a male and a female showed a preference for each other, there was about an 80 per cent chance they would produce a cub. When one of the two showed a preference for the other, there was about a 50 per cent chance they would produce a cub.

When neither showed a preference for the other, there was a zero per cent chance for a cub.

The pandas showed interest in potential mates through behaviours such as vocalisations called "chirps" and "bleats", and "scent- marking" by rubbing glands against a surface or object.

Females showed their angiogenital region to males, put their tails in the air and walked backwards towards males.

Males performed a handstand against a vertical surface and urinated.

"We learnt that, just as in humans, breeding signals are complicated," Ms Martin-Wintle said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2015, with the headline 'Pandas pander to passion too'. Print Edition | Subscribe