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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Application of Behavioral Knowledge to Conservation in the Giant Panda

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Over the past several years we have developed a research program to increase knowledge of giant panda behavioral biology to facilitate efforts to reproduce giant pandas in captivity, particularly at the Wolong Breeding Center in Sichuan, China. Studies of estrus and reproductive behavior have enabled us to better pinpoint the timing of the fertile period and evaluate problems when a pair's behavior diverges from the norm. Experiments with chemosignals demonstrate that pandas possess a sophisticated chemical communication system, extracting information about the signaler’s sex, reproductive status, age, social status, and individual identity, as well as the age of the chemosignal. The effects of scent on sexual motivation have important applications for captive breeding. Given the proper behavioral environment, most pandas now mate naturally at Wolong. Following observations documenting several behavioral problems, we developed an environmental enrichment program to reduce abnormal behaviors, encourage behavioral diversity, and promote well being. Females are monitored closely for signs of pregnancy and we are evaluating behavioral and morphological indices to distinguish pregnancy from pseudopregnancy. Identification of pregnant females is important because they are managed differently than nonpregnant females. In cases of maternal abandonment of cubs, we have developed a method to train the mother to accept her cubs. The result of such behavioral research, coupled with efforts by other disciplines and basic husbandry changes, is a dramatic increase in the number of natural matings, pregnancies, births and cub survivorship.

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