Recently, a report sprung up claiming that giant panda populations are in danger of being cut significantly over the next several decades, and the population may even die out entirely in 70 years.
The problem, scientists said, is that females have a very small fertility window–between 24 to 72 hours a year–which severely hampered reproduction. Now, a new study is suggesting that male giant pandas are to blame for the reproduction difficulties, too.
In the wild, this short window still works. Usually, a female and partner’s reproductive cycles will align–once the female becomes fertile, the male panda tends to become more interested in sex. In captivity, however, scientists have noticed that the reproduction cycles go out of sync, which can severely reduce the chance of a female giant panda being held in captivity birthing a cub.
“The reproductive strategy the giant panda works well for them in the wild, otherwise, they would not have evolved to develop this strategy,” said Dr Copper Aitken-Palmer, veterinary medical officer at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.
“However, once we brought them into captivity, we changed all the rules. Frankly, we as scientists and animal managers were the ones that did not fully understand the complexities involved in giant panda reproduction.”
In captivity, researchers explain, male giant pandas are far less interested in mating throughout the year, often even more so between February and May, which is usually around when female giant pandas become fertile. Male giant pandas have increased mating desire in “waves” throughout the year, and captivity is causing the male cycle to become out of sync with females–sometimes completely.