Pan­das ben­e­fit as their keep­ers adapt

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By HUANG ZHILING in Chengdu huangzhiling@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Forty-eight cap­tive gi­ant pan­das were born world­wide this year. Forty-five are alive, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of cap­tive pan­das glob­ally to 548, said Li Chun­liang, deputy di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Forestry and Grass­land Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Li made the re­marks dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence for the Gi­ant Panda Con­ser­va­tion and Breed­ing and 2018 An­nual Con­fer­ence of the Chi­nese Com­mit­tee of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing Tech­niques held in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince, on Thurs­day.

Thirty-one of the cubs be­long to the China Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­ter for the Gi­ant Panda, 11 to the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing and three to the Bei­jing Zoo, he said.

Hosted by the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, the con­fer­ences have drawn panda ex­perts from home and abroad to com­pare notes on the pro­tec­tion and breed­ing of pan­das, dis­ease pre­ven­tion, re­turn­ing pan­das to the wild and pro­tect­ing com­pan­ion an­i­mals.

Par­tic­i­pants at the con­fer­ences hailed the high birthrate. In the past, it was a fre­quent prob­lem that cap­tive pan­das had no de­sire to mate, and sur­vival was dif­fi­cult for any cubs that were born, said Zhang Hemin, deputy chief of the re­search cen­ter.

At that time, re­searchers did not un­der­stand pan­das’ habits. Think­ing they pre­ferred a soli­tary life, re­searchers kept the an­i­mals iso­lated in tiny dens and fed them only bam­boo.

As a re­sult pan­das be­came de­pressed, Zhang said.

As a way out, re­searchers pro­vided cap­tive pan­das with more op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­mu­ni­cate so­cially with each other and play.

Male and fe­male pan­das were swapped into the dens of the op­po­site sex so that each would know the smell of the other.

In the wild, pan­das eat bam­boo. They seek out the best plants — those re­ceiv­ing ad­e­quate sun­shine and pro­vid­ing the best nu­tri­tion.

Since re­searchers could not pro­vide that kind of bam­boo for the cap­tive pan­das, they cre­ated a bis­cuit rich in trace el­e­ments and vi­ta­mins, Zhang said.

Wild pan­das stay ac­tive for many hours each day. To em­u­late their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, re­searchers tried putting the bis­cuits in places the pan­das could not find eas­ily, aim­ing to get them to move around.

To make them play, they froze fruits be­fore giv­ing them to the pan­das. They had to play with the fruits un­til they thawed if they wanted to eat them, Zhang said.

Ear­lier, many new­born panda cubs died be­cause of aban­don­ment. Typ­i­cally, half of new­borns are twins, and the mother would end up car­ing for only one.

A mother panda would first try to care for both cubs, but sev­eral hours later, when she re­al­ized she could not, she would aban­don one. If she tried to sup­port both, both would die, Zhang said. Re­searchers did not know how to han­dle the aban­don­ment prob­lem, and the death rate was high.

They even­tu­ally set­tled on a course that was part phi­lan­thropy and part trick­ery. They would take away the de­serted baby and feed it milk; then they would switch it with the fa­vored cub from time to time. In that way, the mother un­wit­tingly sup­ported both.

The mother would lick dif­fer­ent parts of the new­born cub, in­clud­ing its anus to get its drop­pings out. Re­searchers learned to use a cot­ton swab to mimic the mother when han­dling a de­serted cub to get the drop­pings out.

Such ap­proaches en­sured the cubs’ sur­vival, Zhang said.

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