The number of living giant pandas is quite low, just over 2000. Besides, the giant panda has a low birth rate in the wild. To protect these rare cute animals from being extinct, a lot of efforts have been put to keep them in captivity and help to reproduce. Successful panda breedings have been achieved over the past decades at panda bases in China.
The attempt for panda breeding in captivity started in China in the year of 1955, but the first successful captive-bred panda “Mingming” was born in 1963, years later in Beijing.
There are about 400 pandas in captivity, which is believed to be a minimum number to sustain a population of giant pandas.
The first thing is to mate male and female pandas. In the early years of panda breeding, captive pandas were found to either lose the interest of mating or do not know how. Although now the pandas know how to mate naturally through educational research by panda researchers, the timing could also be challenging. A female panda is fertile only two to three days a year so the timing is crucial, so both natural mating and non-invasive artificial insemination are used.
If a female panda is pregnant successfully, close observation is kept on her. It takes between 95-165 days in pregnancy.
After the gestation period, cubs are born in August to September. Newborn cubs are very tiny (1/900 of a mother panda), vulnerable and blind, requiring a very careful nursery by panda researchers. Researchers will wear panda costumes to ensure a familiar and comfortable home for the baby pandas.
One or two pandas are born each time, triplets very rare. A female panda reproduces every two years, each gestation takes about half a year. Therefore, a panda can have six to seven babies in a lifetime.
There are some ways of pregnancy diagnosis: the first one is to observe: much less poop, loss of appetite, cautious movement and even more sleep; the second one is to test hormore: the progesterone in panda’s blood or milk in pregnancy is obviously higher; the third one is to use type-B ultrasound.
But It’s still quite difficult to precisely diagnose panda’s pregnancy. Pandas only show pregnancy reactions three months after fertilization; each mother panda could have different reactions; and the ultrasound B can only detect baby panda 15-20 days before birthgiving. Therefore, there are times when we found pandas show reactions of pregnancy for months after mating, but in the end, no baby pandas are given birth to, this is what we call “panda fake pregnancy”.
In 2013, “Tiantian” in Scotland had a fake pregnancy. In 2014, ”Aibang” also had a fake pregnancy in Chengdu, maybe only to enjoy longer special care. One year later, “Yuanyuan” in Taiwai also had a fake pregnancy, to get better pregnancy food, snacks and single large “room” with conditioner. In 2018, “Meixiang” in Washington seemed pregnant but four months later her hormone went back to normal and no baby was detected or delivered in the end.
Panda reseach and breeding programs are conducted at the four panda bases in China, including Wolong panda center, Dujiangyan panda base, Bifengxia panda center, and Chengdu panda base. The 400 captive giant pandas are living happily at these bases.>