The giant panda is one of the most famous endangered species. Even when taken into captivity, giant pandas have reproduction problems. This has perplexed scientists and they have taken steps to help with different methods of fertility treatments. Now, new research has found a clue to the problem.

Why don’t Giant Pandas reproduce in captivity? Maybe, it is because scientists have focused on the wrong gender. Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

            Giant Pandas are found predominantly in China, in cool damp forests. Giant pandas were having problems because their forests were being chopped down. “The greatest threat to the giant panda population is that the area in which they live is becoming smaller and more fragmented,” says Claire Doole, Head of Press at WWF International.

            Giant pandas are often confused as a species of raccoon, and there has been a big debate about whether Pandas are bears. Giant pandas do not hibernate. Panda bears are also different from other bears to the point where female panda bears are only fertile for about three days every year. This gives a small gap for female panda bears to become pregnant. Female Pandas also do not reach maturity until they are 5–7 years old.

            In captivity, Giant Pandas are watched and researched on ways to improve their reproduction. Researchers have collected the male’s sperm and then kept it alive in a laboratory, so that when they get the eggs from the female Giant Panda they can fertilize the egg. This method is used so that researchers can plan ahead and don’t have to try to get the female Giant Panda pregnant in the 3-day fertility window.

            Other methods have included giving male Giant Pandas an enhancement drug, and showing videos of other Giant Pandas mating to see if this would help pandas try to become more focused on mating. “They don’t know how to mate, so we need to show the male how to videos,” says Prasertsak Buntrakoonpoontawee, project chief at the Thailand’s Chiang Mai Zoo.

            It seemed at first that the female Giant Pandas only have this fertility window, but new research conducted by Dr. Copper Aitken-Palmer of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Dr. Rong Hou of the Chengdu Research base of Giant Panda Breeding, that was published in the April 4, 2012 issue of Biology of Reproduction, shows that male pandas also become fertile. Their research shows that male pandas actually become more reproductive in three-to-five-month periods in order to be compatible with the female pandas small fertility time window. This knowledge can help with the retrieval of sperm from the Giant Panda for artificial insemination and gives a way to try to help with the Giant Panda fertility problem. Beth Robberson

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