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How Many Pandas Left In 2020?

According to the 4th National Investigation on Giant Pandas, published by the National Forestry on February 28, 2015, there are 1,864 individual pandas living in the country’s habitats, which has increased by 16.8% since the previous investigation.

Among them, 74.4% live in Sichuan province, which makes Sichuan the most populous “capital” for pandas.

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How Long Is Panda Pregnant?

A female giant panda is estrual only once a year, and also only mates once a year. Giant panda’s estrous cycle lasts between March to April every year. But their pregnancy period varies as individuals. The shortest pregnancy period observed so far is 83 days; the longest is 181 days.

An artificially reared giant panda is fertile from 1 year old. The variety in pregnancy period can even be controlled by the panda itself against external stimulation.

Giant pandas often give birth during autumn. A newly-born panda weighs about 100 grams. It is smooth and hairless, therefore vulnerable and has a low survival rate.

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The World’s Smallest Panda Cub

At 9:35 on the morning of 11th June, the giant panda “Chengda” in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding had her amniotic fluid leaked, and she was having signs of labor. On the same day at 14:41, a female giant panda cub was born, with a weight of 171.9g.

In the evening, at 18:08, another young cub was born, weighing 42.8g, and it’s a female. This is the second birth of Chengda. It is worth mentioning that this panda cub is even lighter than the world’s previous lightest, living panda cub “Wu Yi”.

On 11th June, the panda cub born by the giant panda “Chengda” weighed a few grams lighter than “Wu Yi”. Her weight is considered as extremely low. When the cub was born, the experts and breeders present were both nervous and surprised, as she weighed only a quarter of the normal panda cubs, and was less than two-thirds of her sister.

When they put the twin sisters together, they immediately see the difference in size. At present, the base has sent the most experienced group of cub-raising experts to carefully feed and monitor the cub for 24 hours per day.

As the cub is too small, she’s unable to be breastfed. Researchers of the base tried to squeeze the colostrum from her mother, and they artificially supplemented the milk, monitored their breathing, mental state and feces at any time.

Although there are relatively stable signs of life at present, there are still many uncertain factors in this panda cub that’s extremely light. Nurses and veterinarians of the base are going to apply their rich experienced accumulated in the field of panda-breeding over the years, and they hope to create another miracle of life.

As of November 2018, the Base has bred 188 fetuses of giant pandas, and 284 cubs were born. At present, there are still 195 cubs that are alive. The survival rate of cubs has reached 98%. The Base has also successfully bred the world’s lightest cub “Wu Yi”.

The team has diligently promoted technical research and created many world firsts in the field of giant panda breeding (such as the survival of the first twins, the first panda going through estrus in Autumn and giving birth in Winter, and the first mother feeding her twins at the same time.

It has also made the world’s lightest panda cub survive). The Base has become a professional protection institution with strong comprehensive strength, scientific and technological achievements and outstanding breeding achievements in the field of captive protection of giant pandas. Until present, the Base has successfully bred 2 fetuses and 3 panda cubs this year.

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Bamboo Blossoms,Pandas Starve?

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a forest of Arrow Bamboo blossomed overnight in Wolong Reserve, Sichuan Province, China. The original green bamboo area was instantly replaced by numerous purple-brown flowers.            

This is not a good thing, as Arrow Bamboo is one of the pandas’ favorite foods. Pandas, which are fussy eaters, do not eat bamboo that has blossomed. What’s worse is, after the bamboo blossoms and fruits, a lot of them begin to wither and die.

Almost at the same time, 138 corpses of wild pandas were found in Wenxian County of Gansu Province, Pingwu County of Sichuan Province and Nanping County. And it’s a depressing event.

For a while, the saying “bamboo blossoms and pandas starve” spread everywhere, arousing the attention of all sectors of society. People all over the country, even from around the world have donated money to help pandas. With much effort, they turned the situation around and pandas are no longer on the verge of extinction.

Afterwards, people became more convinced that the blossoming of bamboo is an ominous sign, and they firmly believed that it has caused the death of pandas. At the same time, there have been experts who attempt to explain that the blossoming of bamboo is not the real cause of the death of pandas. There’re even some researchers who believe that such blossoming is beneficial to the development of the population of pandas.            

So, what’s all this about? We need to look for the answer from the unique phenomenon of the blossoming of bamboo.

Through rigorous scientific confirmation, the blossoming of bamboo is proven to be a normal phenomenon. Blossoming and fruiting are considered as an overloaded “physical activity” for plants. The blossoming of plants in nature are generally divided into two categories:            

The first kind blossom every year, and they repeat the same pattern every year. Examples include peony, Osmanthus, etc., the other kind only blossoms once in a lifetime, and after blossoming once, its lifecycle comes to an end.  

If we further subdivide them, plants which only blossom once in a lifetime are classified into vegetative growth and reproductive growth. They spend most of their lives growing their branches and leaves to store nutrients for vegetative growth.

When the right time comes, they will blossom, bear fruit, and die when they run out of nutrients. Apart from most bamboos, we can see the reproductive growth pattern of radish, cabbage and rape which are commonly consumed in our daily life.

What’s special is that bamboo can withstand decades, even hundreds of years without flowering and bearing fruit. Not only does it take a long time, bamboos usually blossom in large scale at one time.  

Whether they’re old or young bamboo, they blossom almost at the same time. What’s the reason for this? This is because the bunch of bamboo that we see is probably from the same branch of bamboo.

The main reproductive mode of bamboo is asexual reproduction. It can be connected by a bamboo whip in the ground. The bamboo shoots grow on the bamboo whip and grow into new bamboos, expanding the scope continuously, thus forming a large bamboo forest.

This further proves what the poem “Growing At The Same Roots” says, so no matter which year the bamboo grows, their actual “age” is the same, they will thus blossom at the same time.

Even if it is not the same bamboo plant, the same species of bamboo in the same area may be the offspring of the large-scale blooming, after the withering of the previous bamboo. In this way, a specific lifecycle is formed in nature, thus forming this miracle.            

Compared with the “same-age bamboo” in nature, artificially planted bamboo often forms “unevenly aged bamboo” because of the uneven variety, age and source. Therefore, there will be no collective blossoming and withering. It could be that bamboos from two different places blossom at the same time, and they just happen to be the same age.  

When bamboo blossoms, the nutrients saved over the years by the bamboo leaves would be used to blossom and seed. It seems to intend to spend all of its life, concentrating all the essence into these little seeds.            

When seeding is done, the nutrients stored in bamboo are also depleted.

So, once bamboo blossoms and dies, will this really starve pandas to death? Professor Pan Wenshi, Department of Biology of Peking University has conducted some investigation and analysis. He has concluded that bamboo blossoming is not the main factor causing threat to the panda population.

From the historical perspective, pandas must have experienced a lot of blossoming of bamboo, and they’ve gained a certain extent of adaptability. For example, when a certain bamboo blossoms in a place, pandas will choose the bamboo that hasn’t blossomed. If it flourishes in large areas, they will migrate to find new sources of food.            

Even though there’s only one kind of bamboo that grows in the panda area, and even if it blossoms and dies in large areas, pandas can still eat large amounts of bamboo to meet their needs for food.

On the contrary, the blossoming of bamboo has certain benefits for the healthy development of pandas. Pandas feed on dozens of kinds of bamboo. When one or several bamboos blossom and die, pandas can look for other kinds of bamboo.            

In this process, the old, weak and disabled pandas may be eliminated. But when the bamboo forest restores its development, the panda population will recover faster, and the population viability will become stronger as well.      

So, we cannot put the blame on the blossoming of bamboo for the death of starved pandas. The real cause was that the panda’s habitat was destroyed artificially by large-scale deforestation in Qinling area at that time.    

Then, when a reserve for wild pandas was established, and when logging was stopped, their habitats could be protected.       

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Panda Yong Liang-The First Panda Raised By Hunman

Yongliang

15 September 1992 – 15 August 1997

Mother : Yong Yong

Father : Liang Liang

Habitat : Beijing Zoo

Yongliang only lived for five years. Perhaps people don’t find it familiar when hearing his name, yet the twin brother of Yongliang is very famous, and that is Yongming, living in Adventure World in Shirahama, Wakayama, Japan.

However, our protagonist of the day is Yongliang, the first giant panda that is entirely artificially nurtured in the world.

The oldest family of captive giant pandas live in the Beijing Zoo, they’re from the Sichuan wilderness (Dudu, male) and (Fangfang, female), who are the ancestors of this family. In 1974, Dudu and Fangfang gave birth to Daidai, female. In 1986, Daidai and Lele, which was also from the wild, gave birth to Liangliang. And Liangliang was the father of Yongliang. Its mother Yongyong was from the wild too.  

The outstanding genes from several generations of ancestors gave Yongliang a very strong life, and with the constant care of the keepers, Yongliang was given the opportunity to survive.

In the middle of the night of September 14, 1992, Yongyong gave birth to the brother of the twins, Yongming.

In the early morning of the next day, another brother of the twins, Yongliang was born. With two cubs, the mother Yongyong chose the big brother Yongming. She picked the cub up with her mouth and licked it carefully in her arms.

Yongliang was abandoned by Yongyong. He was constantly struggling and calling on the ground, yet his mother wouldn’t react.

After a few minutes, the breeder Mr. Liu Zhigang picked up Yongliang and put him into the nursery box that had already been prepared in advance.

Yongliang thus grew up in an artificial environment.

Afterward, the breeder, Liu Zhigang said,

“Yong Liang was abandoned by his mother 2 minutes after his birth, which gave us a false alarm. When Yongyong took the baby, her body moved a little, and at this moment, she almost pressed against the cub. If she bumped into it a little, the cub would possibly lose his life.”

At birth, Yongliang was a healthy baby: “it weighted 150g, with its body length as 18cm, its tail was 6cm long.”

For panda cubs, the mother’s colostrum is extremely important.

“Panda cubs are born with a very poor immune system. They rely on the immune components in breast milk to gradually establish its own immunity. In order to increase the immunity of the panda cubs who do not have the opportunity to drink their mothers’ colostrum, an artificial feeding method could help improving their immunity as well.

Scientists and technicians have analyzed the milk of giant pandas and they have configured the artificial colostrum according to the ingredients in the breast milk. From the situation of the growth and development of panda cubs, the composition of the artificial colostrum is basically reliable.”

Compared with his brother Yongming, Yongliang was even more pampered. Fortunately, there were many “Daddies” to take care of the cub, and the health of Yongliang was not weaker than that of Yongming.

When it comes to intelligence, Yongliang was not weak either!

Mr. Liu Zhigang told us, “Yongliang is intelligent and very benevolent.”

“During one of my night shifts, when I approached Yongliang’s room, I was completely shocked by what I saw and my mind went blank. The room was open and Yongliang was missing. I was so anxious that I changed into my work clothes at once and started looking for Yongliang. The nursery room had a total of 10 rooms, and there were several outdoor sports fields connected.

The room of Yongliang was in the innermost part of the nursery. I looked for Yongliang in each room, and when I arrived the room that’s the nearest to the outside, I heard some “sa sa” sound from the sports field. I immediately ran forward and looked. And my worries instantly faded away with what I’d seen. I saw that Yongliang was eating leaves on the ground, and I couldn’t help but burst into laughter when I saw his relaxing look. I told him, ‘little guy, you made me so desperate!’ Then, I checked each room again and saw that everything stayed in its original position…it’s not that Yongliang didn’t pass by these rooms, but he didn’t make any damages at all. If it happened to other pandas, I’m quite sure most of the things would have been destroyed already. You can see how kind and civilized Yongliang was:”

Then, how did this “prison break” happen?

The answer is this –

“That day, I happened to be outside the room of Yongliang. I suddenly heard the doorknob of his room. Then, I looked up and saw that Yongliang was standing up straight, and he was biting and twisting the doorknob. I didn’t quite get what he was doing, but before I realized it, he already opened the door and was ready to run outside. I hurried to stop him. I suddenly realized that the cubs had learnt what the breeders were doing daily – turning the doorknob and going outside. Since the doorknob was broken, I had to install a bolt outside the door and the issue was solved.”  

Yongliang: see how smart I am!

Since Yongliang had been raised by his breeders, he’s very close to them. When he became an adult panda, he still wouldn’t attack his breeders. And he was always cooperative for body checks and vaccinations. Yongliang even sometimes demanded to be fed by his breeders.

Unfortunately, Yongliang passed away one month before he turned five years old.

Without breast milk, Yongliang was congenitally deficient. He had deficiencies in his immunity and his bodily conditions became worse. In the end, he had to return to Heaven…

For the twin brothers, Yongliang left the world pretty early, and his brother Yongliang has lived in Wakayama, Japan since 1994, giving birth to the famous , Yongliang left the world early, and his brother Yongming has lived in Japan’s Wakayama since 1994, and has given birth to the famous “Bing” family. Despite the different fates of the two brothers, they marked a miracle of life.

The survival of Yongliang is a milestone, representing the tenacity of life, while Yongming is the symbol of the continuation of life. He has been the oldest panda father who naturally mates.

Although the researchers still have not found the secret of breast milk of giant pandas, and newborn cubs still highly depend on their mothers’ milk, Yongliang has given us hope in this regard.

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Do Pandas Attack Human Beings?

There are reports of pandas attacking human beings, whether they’re pandas living in the wild or in captivity.

Pandas are omnivorous animals. In addition to eating bamboo and bamboo shoots, pandas living in the wild also prey on small animals such as bamboo rats and birds. Occasionally, there’re news reports about pandas entering the mountains to steal and eat goats.

This proves that pandas still preserve a certain extent of aggressiveness of carnivorous animals. However, since most of them live in dense forests, they’re instinctively sensitive.

And even though they have a poor vision, their hearing and smelling abilities remain sensitive as well. In most cases, even though they actively avoid contact with humans, there’re still examples of them attacking human beings.

For pandas in captivity, since they have been in close contact with their breeders since birth, they are very familiar with their voices and smells, and they knew that they have been raised by their breeders since they were little, such pandas rarely show aggressiveness to them.

But after these pandas reach two years old, there would be less contact with the breeders, which is probably done out of safety concerns. Anyone who has observed pandas in a short distance would know that their paws and teeth are very sharp, even when they have no intentions to attack and just want to get closer to their breeders, their paws might still cause severe injuries.

Therefore, when people would like to take pictures with pandas, they have to do it when pandas are being fed, since they’d be busy with the apples or bamboo shoots in their hands, they wouldn’t be interested in playing with human beings, and thus would not cause serious injuries to them. (I was once hurt by a one-year-old young panda when I was playing with it, even though it was treating my calf as its toy, and I was wearing a thick pair of jeans and cargo pants as shown in the picture below, I still felt very painful.)

Therefore, there are very strict regulations and implementations for the breeding of adult pandas. For example, when cleaning a yard, the pandas must be kept in the animal house. When feeding, the pandas must be seated on the ground near the railing.

Their hands cannot reach into the cage and they cannot lean against the railing. Otherwise, the same accident will happen as described above. Generally, pandas are very gentle animals.

As long as a safe distance is kept, if you don’t show any hostility, and if you don’t cross their boundaries, they will be the sweetest and loveliest companions ever.

What’s commonly seen is that there are tourists who violate the zoo regulations and enter the pandas’ areas without permission, they would undoubtedly be attacked.

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Why Are Panda Endangered?

The endangerment of pandas is divided into internal and external causes.          

The internal reason is the high specialization of feeding habits, reproductive capacity and childrearing behavior.            

In the long and harsh competition for survival and natural selection, saber-toothed tigers and other animals of the same era have gone into extinction. Pandas have survived, since they were transformed from carnivorous to eating bamboo.            

However, food specialization has its drawbacks. The low-nutrient bamboo can hardly provide sufficient energy to pandas. Therefore, pandas do whatever it takes to save energy.

As bamboos only feed on bamboo, it results in their annual oestrus, and each time, it only lasts for 2 to 3 days. If they miss these few days, they will have to wait for the next year. Such a pattern explains why only few panda cubs are born every year.  

In terms of child rearing, the newborn pandas are essentially premature infants. They have no vision, no hearing ability, and are utterly dependent on their mothers. They can only start living independently after one year and a half, and the probability of dying early is very high.

A female panda lives about 20 years. At the age of 5, she starts to have estrus, and at the age of 6, she would have her first baby. The baby panda starts living independently when it reaches 18 months old. Even if she gives birth to a panda cub every two years, she will give birth to at most 4 to 5 babies throughout her whole life.

The external cause is the destruction of pandas’ habitat by human hunting.            

After the discovery of pandas by Western missionary David in Baoxing, foreign hunters rushed into China to hunt pandas fiercely. However, some people, who don’t obey the law in China, still engage in this illegal activity when they face temptation, disregarding the national laws of the protection of pandas, and posing a direct threat to the survival of pandas.  

Human beings have engaged in deforestation, resulting in the disappearance of panda habitat and the severity of ethnic division. Individual pandas are thus forced to live in scattered places, and it is difficult for them to migrate freely, which leads to inbreeding and degradation of species.

After nearly 40 years of promotion and protection in China, great achievements have been made in the protection of pandas. People have started to grow a consciousness about the protection of this national treasure, and hunting pandas secretly has never happened again.

The establishment of a large number of panda nature reserves has protected the habitats of wild pandas, and all the scattered areas are linked together. With the development of the research on pandas, the number of captive pandas has been increasing, and the field training has been carried out steadily at the same time.

The endangered situation of pandas has been greatly improved. By 2018, the number of pandas has reached 1864, and their status has changed from endangered to vulnerable.