The discovery can help boost the efforts to breed captive pandas.
Giant panda or simply panda is one of the most beloved animals in the world. But unfortunately this iconic black and white animal is not flourishing at all and is listed as an endangered species with just around 2,000 pandas left in the wild.
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Conservation breeding programs have become increasingly important to save endangered giant pandas and to make them thrive again, but despite rigorous efforts these programs met with limited success.
Researchers studied captive breeding of this bamboo eating animal and found out why they are not producing as much cubs as are expected.
Researchers suggest that the reason is a lot simpler and perhaps more obvious – pandas are not allowed to choose their own mates. In captive breeding, pandas are matched by genetic compatibility rather their attraction towards each other.
When giant pandas are paired through human intervention, they show the slightest of sexual interest in the mate thrust upon them and these unsatisfied arranged marriages negatively affect reproductive outcomes.
“Giant pandas paired with preferred partners have significantly higher copulation and birth rates. Reproductive rates increase further when both partners show mutual preference for one another.” Study reads.
A team of researchers from the United States and China carried out research on 40 captive giant pandas at the China Conservation and Research Centre in Sichuan province and tested whether it makes any difference if pandas are allowed to choose their own partners.
Reproductive performance increased when both male and female showed mutual preference. Lack of interest in each other decreased the chances of producing a cub. Researchers also measured animal’s ‘mate preference behavior’ and found that pandas showed playfulness as well as sexual arousal for preferred partners. On the other hand, they showed signs of aggression or mere lack of interest towards a non-preferred partner.
So for all those who are running conservation breeding programs for giant pandas as well as other endangered species, researchers simply suggest let the animals choose their own mates.
Meghan Martin-Wintle, a conservation biologist at San Diego Zoo for conservation research says. “Incorporating mate choice into conservation breeding programs could make a huge difference for the success of many endangered species breeding programs, increasing cost effectiveness and overall success.”
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The study was published in the journal Nature.