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.