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When all else failed, they have often had to rely on artificial insemination to ensure the endangered black and white creatures have cubs. On Tuesday, a study suggested the answer may be a lot simpler and, perhaps, more obvious—let the pandas choose their own mates. "Giant pandas paired with preferred partners have significantly higher copulation and birth rates," researchers noted in the journal Nature Communications. Generally, pandas in captivity are presented with a mate chosen by scientists based on the animals' "genetic profile". The goal is to minimise inbreeding and expand the DNA pool. But the result is often frustrating, with the animals having to be coaxed through human intervention to show even the slightest sexual interest in the mate thrust upon them. A team from the United States and China ran a test at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province, to see if being allowed to choose their own partner might make a difference. Male and female pandas were housed in enclosures with animals of the opposite sex on either side. They were allowed limited physical interaction with their neighbours through cage bars. Scientists measured the animals' "mate preference behaviour", which included different forms of playfulness and bond-forming, as well as sexual arousal. "Negative" interactions could include signs of aggression or a mere lack of interest. The animals were then introduced to each other for mating—with both preferred and non-preferred partners. "The highest reproductive performance was seen when both males and females showed mutual preference," the researchers found. The results should come as no big surprise—ever since Charles Darwin published his theory of sexual selection in 1859, scientists have understood that mate selection is key to animal reproduction. "Mate incompatibility can impede captive breeding programmes by reducing reproductive rates," wrote the study authors. "It is therefore surprising that mate preferences have not figured more prominently in captive breeding programmes." The findings may help China better spend its limited conservation budget, the scientists added. "The future of conservation breeding will not take place in a test tube," they wrote. The most cost-effective way to get captive animals to produce offspring is to breed them naturally, and "to do that requires better understanding of natural mating behaviour", they concluded. "Mate choice has an important role to play in conservation." The authors said their study was the first to "rigorously examine" the effects of mate preference in giant pandas. Pandas have only a brief breeding season from around March to May—and females become fertile only about two to three days a year, producing a cub approximately every 24 months. Conservation group WWF estimates there are only around 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild in south-central China.

News Article | September 7, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

China objects to the decision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to take out giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) from the endangered species list. The IUCN Red List is considered the most comprehensive inventory of plants and animals at the global level. In the new update, the IUCN has reclassified giant pandas' status in the Red List from "endangered" to "vulnerable." The latest report of IUCN noted that there were 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, compared to 1,600, which was the population in 2004. That shows a 17 percent growth in the giant panda numbers in the wild. The Switzerland-based body then commended China's efforts at conservation and in contributing to the eventual increase of the panda population. It made special mention of China's measures such as tight regulations against poaching and adding new forest reserves for housing giant pandas. Despite the praises, China was not amused and criticized the IUCN reclassification as a setback and asserted that the black-and-white pandas continue to be "endangered." "If we downgrade their conservation status, or neglect or relax our conservation work, the population and habitats of giant pandas could still suffer irreversible loss and our achievements could be quickly lost," China's State Forestry Administration said. The official Xinhua news agency said IUCN move was a hasty step and quoted Zhang Hemin, of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. "A severely fragmented natural habitat still threatens the lives of pandas; genetic transfer between different populations will improve, but is still not satisfactory," Zhang said. He expressed fear that by lowering the guard on conservation efforts, protection work will suffer and the panda population as well as their habitat will face "irreversible losses." China's reasoning is that the wild giant pandas are facing the threat of diminishing genetic diversity. They are split into 33 isolated groups and some group had only fewer than 10 members. According to Zhang, as many as 18 sub-populations are facing "a high risk of collapse." China's assessment is that the giant panda species could be called less endangered only when the wild population grows steadily without adding captive-bred pandas. Marc Brody, senior adviser for conservation at the China's Wolong reserve also expressed doubts over the wisdom of IUCN's review of the pandas' status. "It is too early to conclude that pandas are actually increasing in the wild," Brody said at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. He added that no justifiable reason is in sight to downgrade the listing from endangered to "threatened." Meanwhile, the ABC from Australia said the good news for pandas may not last as a warming planet from excessive fossil fuel burning may wipe out one-third of the pandas' bamboo habitat in the coming decades. "The concern now is that although the population has slowly increased — and it is still very small — several models predict a reduction of the extent of bamboo forests in China in the coming decades due to climate change," Carlo Rondinini, a mammal assessment coordinator at the Sapienza University of Rome, told reporters. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

News Article | November 7, 2015
Site: www.techtimes.com

Chinese scientists who studied the language of giant pandas at a conservation center in the Sichuan province were able to decipher 13 different vocalizations. Researchers found that male giant pandas make 'baa' sounds like a sheep when wooing mate. The female giant pandas then respond by making bird-like sounds (chirping) when they're interested. Baby pandas (cubs) make 'wow-wow' sounds when they're sad. When they're hungry, the make 'gee-gee' sounds to prompt their mothers into action. Cubs also say 'coo-coo' which translate to 'nice' in human language. The research team recorded the giant pandas' vocalizations in various scenarios which included nursing the cubs, fighting and eating to analyze the voiceprints. "Trust me - our researchers were so confused when we began the project, they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep," said China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda  head Zhang Hemin, who lead the study. The research team has been analyzing panda linguistics since 2010. Panda cubs learn to bark, shout, chirp, and squeak to express what they want. The researchers found that adult giant pandas are typically unsocial animals, making their mothers the only language teacher they ever had. When a mother panda won't stop making bird-like sounds (chirping), she could be worried about her cubs. Like a dog, she barks when a stranger goes near her babies. In general, barking can be translated as "get out of my place." Understanding how giant pandas communicate can be valuable in their conservation, especially in their natural habitat in the wild. Findings coupled with conservation efforts will benefit future generations. Looking forward, the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda is looking into the creation of a "panda translator" using a voice-recognition software. The 2014 census of the World Wildlife Fund said there are 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild, majority of which are found in Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces in China. Towards the end of 2013, there were 375 giant pandas living in conservation centers or zoos around the world. Two hundred captive pandas are living at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. Saving giant pandas from the brink of extinction have reached a tipping point. On the other side of the world, scientists gear up to clone one male and one female panda at the Roslin Embryology, a biotechnology firm at Edinburgh Science Triangle in the United Kingdom (UK). Tian Tian and Yang Guang, who live in the 82-acre Edinburgh Zoo, are last two giant pandas left in the UK. The team who successfully cloned Dolly the sheep will also be cloning the two pandas.

Hull V.,Michigan State University | Xu W.,CAS Research Center for Eco Environmental Sciences | Liu W.,Michigan State University | Zhou S.,China Conservation and Research | And 12 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2011

Protected areas worldwide are facing increasing pressures to co-manage human development and biodiversity conservation. One strategy for managing multiple uses within and around protected areas is zoning, an approach in which spatial boundaries are drawn to distinguish areas with varying degrees of allowable human impacts. However, zoning designations are rarely evaluated for their efficacy using empirical data related to both human and biodiversity characteristics. To evaluate the effectiveness of zoning designations, we developed an integrated approach. The approach was calibrated empirically using data from Wolong Nature Reserve, a flagship protected area for the conservation of endangered giant pandas in China. We analyzed the spatial distribution of pandas, as well as human impacts (roads, houses, tourism infrastructure, livestock, and forest cover change) with respect to zoning designations in Wolong. Results show that the design of the zoning scheme could be improved to account for pandas and their habitat, considering the amount of suitable habitat outside of the core zone (area designated for biodiversity conservation). Zoning was largely successful in containing houses and roads to their designated experimental zone, but was less effective in containing livestock and was susceptible to boundary adjustments to allow for tourism development. We identified focus areas for potential zoning revision that could better protect the panda population without significantly compromising existing human settlements. Our findings highlight the need for evaluating the efficacy of zoning in other protected areas facing similar challenges with balancing human needs and conservation goals, not only in China but also around the world. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

News Article
Site: news.yahoo.com

Mother giant panda Aibang is seen with her newborn cub at a giant panda breeding centre in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, May 6, 2016. China Daily/via REUTER BEIJING (Reuters) - It is too soon to downgrade the conservation status of China's giant pandas as they still face severe threats, a leading conservationist said, after the International Union for Conservation of Nature took the species off its endangered list. The giant panda has emerged as a success story for conservation in China whose cause has been championed right up to the highest levels in Beijing, where leaders often give the animal to other countries as a sign of friendship. As of the end of 2015, China had 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, up from about 1,100 in 2000, with 422 in captivity, according to the government. But on Sunday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reclassified the species as "vulnerable" rather than "endangered", citing growing numbers in the wild due to decades of protection efforts. Zhang Hemin, of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, known in China as the "father of pandas", told the official Xinhua news agency that this was a hasty move. "A severely fragmented natural habitat still threatens the lives of pandas; genetic transfer between different populations will improve, but is still not satisfactory," Zhang said in a report late on Tuesday. "Climate change is widely expected to have an adverse effect on the bamboo forests which provide both their food and their home. And there is still a lot to be done in both protection and management terms." The wild giant panda population faced a lack of genetic diversity as it was broken up into 33 isolated groups, some of which had fewer than 10 individuals, Zhang said. Of those 18 sub-populations with fewer than 10 pandas, all faced "a high risk of collapse", he added. Only when the wild population could grow steadily without the addition of captive-bred pandas could the species be called less endangered, Zhang said. "If the conservation status is downgraded, protection work might slacken off and both the panda population and their habitat are more likely to suffer irreversible loss," he added. "The present protection achievements will be lost and some small sub-populations may die out." Shi Xiaogang, of the Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwestern Sichuan province, China's main panda conservation centre, said pandas still needed continuous protection, according to Xinhua. It was good China's efforts had been recognized. "But as conservators, we know that the situation of the wild panda is still very risky," Shi said.

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