Plants and Animals

Panda Fakes Pregnancy To Get More Food

August 28, 2014 | by Lisa Winter

Photo credit: George Lu via flickr, CC BY 2.0

Update: Despite the staff from the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center telling the media that Ai Hin had actually faked the pregnancy in order to take advantage of improved living conditions, it is more likely that the pregnancy spontaneously aborted, but lingering hormonal changes caused her to continue to behave pregnant for some time. As such, please take the following (and highly anthropomorphized) story with a grain of salt. -LW

The Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center in China recently had to call off a live broadcast that was to feature 6-year-old Ai Hin giving birth, because they discovered that she wasn't actually pregnant

First, let’s take a step back and take a very brief look at panda conservation:

Because of extensive habitat destruction, pollution, and poaching, pandas became endangered. The first conservation measures were taken in 1958, though it wasn’t until the 1990s that significant progress was made on that front. The more biologists learned about their reproductive habits, the more they learned that the Giant Panda was more like a Giant Pain-in-da-ass. 

Female pandas can begin mating once they hit 4-5 years old - but they're not really into it. They go into estrus and are receptive to mates for a whopping 3 days each spring and will mate every 2 or 3 years. Seriously, that’s it. (Do they even want to survive?!) A mother panda will typically have one or two cubs at once (though a rare case of surviving triplets was announced earlier this month), but only one baby will receive care in the wild. The other cub is left to die, because the mother apparently doesn’t know that her species is endangered and we don't have enough spares to be wasting cubs all willy-nilly like that.

Because panda breeding can be such a delicate operation, breeding centers like the one in Chengdu take great strides to ensure healthy pregnancies, resulting in healthy cubs. Once Ai Hin started demonstrating behaviors that she was pregnant, she was moved into a private, air-conditioned room where she receive constant care from staff. She was also given better food, including fruit, buns, and bamboo. 

After living the good life for a couple of months, the breeding center’s staff discovered that Ai Hin was actually faking the pregnancy. Some animals (including humans and pandas) can erroneously believe that they are pregnant and actually experience some symptoms due to hormone fluctuations, even if they have’t mated. However, the staff believes that some pandas at their facility may continue to pretend to be pregnant for longer than they otherwise would in order to keep up the improved living conditions.

Pandas have a gestation period of just 90-160 days, and the cubs are too tiny to be readily seen via ultrasound. It’s also difficult to use hormones as a reliable indicator of panda pregnancy, so sometimes it boils down to having to wait and see if she really ‘stays’ pregnant. Some pandas have apparently learned to take advantage of a good opportunity and enjoy the finer things while they can.

The panda is lucky that it’s extremely cute so people will put up with this kind of crap. The unfortunate-looking blobfish and proboscis monkey are endangered too, and you don’t see them acting like this.

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