Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 August 2009
Giant pandas are being maintained in captivity largely for the purpose of creating a reproductively viable population that will support conservation of the species in nature. Toward this end, researchers and managers have targeted many aspects of husbandry for improvement through scientific investigations. Among the many priorities is the ability to measure ‘well-being’ and possibly alleviate ‘stress’ imposed by a captive environment. Stress research has been increasingly incorporated into captive wildlife breeding programmes, in part because it is widely believed that small enclosures may not allow animals to execute normal escape and avoidance responses to aversive stimuli. Coping mechanisms may be constrained, thus resulting in stress that can compromise psychological and physiological health, including reproduction (Carlstead & Shepherdson, 2000). Among the many deleterious consequences, stress compromises immune function, reproduction, pregnancy sustainability and maternal care (Munck et al., 1984; Baker et al., 1996; Carlstead, 1996; Moberg & Mench, 2000).
How susceptible is the giant panda to stress imposed by ex situ environments? The charisma of this species causes it to attract large and noisy crowds. Also, giant pandas are commonly held at major institutions that often undertake large construction projects. This chapter deals with the sensitivity of the giant panda to its captive environment. Stress, more than other biological concepts, has limited utility at the population level. In a single species, however, individual animals seem to vary remarkably in response to environmental change.