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5 - Life histories and behavioural traits as predictors of breeding status

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2009

Susile Ellis
Conservation International
Rebecca J. Snyder
Zoo Atlanta
Guiquan Zhang
China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda
Rongping Wei
China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda
Wei Zhong
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Mabel Lam
M. L. Associates, LLC
Robert Sims
Department of Applied & Engineering Statistics
David E. Wildt
Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington DC
Anju Zhang
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Hemin Zhang
Wildlife Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas
Donald L. Janssen
Zoological Society of San Diego
Susie Ellis
Conservation Breeding Specialist Group
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Among mammals, the giant panda is reproductively unique. The female is a seasonal, monoestrual breeder, experiencing a single- two to three-day period of sexual receptivity once per year, presumably triggered by increasing day length. In the wild, male giant pandas compete with conspecifics for access to oestrous females (Schaller et al., 1985). Giant pandas produce copious sperm numbers (see Chapter 7), presumably as ‘insurance’ to ensure conception and the perpetuation of the male's genes if given the opportunity to mate during a female's brief window of fertility. Although the extraordinarily short oestrus is a fascinating biological trait, it does not appear to limit reproductive success in captivity given that a sexually compatible male is available and breeding occurs. It does, however, present challenges for captive management for cub production.

The wild-born giant panda cub stays with its mother for 1.5 to 2.5 years (Schaller et al., 1985). This almost always is not the case in Chinese zoos and breeding centres, because of the practice of promoting annual cub production by early weaning, usually before six months of age (see Chapter 14). The consequences of this short-term gain on long-term development remain a question, and studies are continuing on the impact of disrupted early rearing on adverse behaviours, including inappropriate aggression, inadequate sexual behaviour and/or incompetent maternal behaviour (see Chapter 14). These anomalies are rather common in the ex situ giant panda world. Many males tend to show aggressive rather than affiliative behaviours, even to females demonstrating strong oestrus.

Giant Pandas
Biology, Veterinary Medicine and Management
, pp. 87 - 100
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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