Giant Pandas Legends Habitat Diet Breeding Conservation

Breeding

In July 2009, the first panda cub was born through artificial insemination with frozen sperm. This is a scientific breakthrough that will improve the future gene pool of giant pandas.

Of all bear cubs, the newborn panda is the smallest, measuring barely 15cm and weighing 100g. Its weight pales in comparison to its mother, which is a whopping 1,000 times heavier. Mother pandas are gentle and cradle their cubs like a human mother does.

In the wild, cubs are often born in tree hollows or under huge rocks with the mother accompanying the newborn for the first few days. At times, she does not leave the den until a week later to find food.

At birth, the panda cub is pink, almost hairless, blind and completely helpless. It starts to take on black and white markings on its coat when it is 10 days old. By 6 months, it starts to walk and learn how to climb trees. When it turns 1 year old, it will weigh about 45kg and at 5 years old, when the giant panda approaches maturity, it grow to about 100kg! In zoos, giant pandas can live up to 30 years and giant pandas in the wild have a life expectancy of 14 to 20 years old.

Giant pandas generally live a life of solitude and come together only during the mating season, between March and May. Giant pandas often face major challenges when it comes to mating and breeding. For one, out of the entire year, female giant pandas are only fertile for one or two days. Secondly, male giant pandas display ignorant traits about mating or are generally not in the mood. Given the short breeding season, it takes a year-long wait till the next season if attempts to mate are unsuccessful.

During the mating season, giant pandas croon "love songs" to each other that sound like goats bleating. They also leave telltale signs of readiness to mate by rubbing their scent glands on tree trunks or rocks to leave "scent messages". Occasionally male giant pandas mark tree trunks with their pee to demonstrate their attractiveness to females.

Giant pandas are one of the very few animals that actually need help in procreation. Their rarity is a great concern and zoos and breeding centres play an important role in "teaching" giant pandas how to mate, to prevent them from becoming extinct.

Male giant pandas are put on an exercise regime to strengthen their hind legs and stamina, to train up for the mating position. And if natural means of reproduction are unsuccessful, veterinarians may opt for artificial insemination (AI).

Most giant pandas give birth to only one cub. However, there have been instances of twins. When twins are born in the wild, the mother panda tends to reject the weaker cub with preference of raising only the stronger one. In breeding centres, twin cubs have a higher chance of survival after the Chinese discovered the art of "twin swapping". In this instance, one cub will be raised in an incubator and regularly swapped with its twin. The mother then ends up caring for, and nursing both babies unknowingly.