Skip to main content

Report: Panda may have faked pregnancy for more buns, bamboo

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Giant pandas are notoriously reluctant to breed in captivity and pseudo-pregnancies are common.
Giant pandas are notoriously reluctant to breed in captivity and pseudo-pregnancies are common.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Giant panda Ai Hin had a phantom pregnancy, Xinhua reports
  • The panda was supposed to be the star of the first live broadcast of a panda birth
  • Expert says pandas sometimes act pregnant after noticing they get better treatment

(CNN) -- A giant panda slated to be the star of the first-ever live broadcast of the birth of panda cubs has lost the role -- after it was discovered the bear is not pregnant after all, Chinese state media reported.

Not only was it a phantom pregnancy, but zookeepers suspect the panda, Ai Hin, may have been faking it to improve her quality of life, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding told Xinhua on Monday.

Ai Hin, age 6, had shown signs of pregnancy, including a change in appetite, moving less and an increase in progestational hormone in July, according to Xinhua.

See the world's cutest panda triplets

But after almost two months, she began acting normally again, zookeepers said.

Experts say pandas sometimes carry on the behaviors associated with early pregnancy after noticing that they get preferential treatment, the news agency reported.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care," Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu base, is quoted as saying.

"They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life."

The birth of Ai Hin's supposed cub and its progress in its early days, from its first cries to acquiring its distinctive black-and-white fur, were due to be broadcast online to panda lovers in China and worldwide.

Giant pandas are notoriously reluctant to breed in captivity and pseudo-pregnancies are common.

The female is fertile for no more than three days a year, and the time span for a pregnancy is from 80 to 200 days, according to the Chengdu base. Scientists will closely monitor behavioral and physiological signs, but it's often a guessing game.

Even if a pregnancy proves genuine, baby pandas have very low survival rates. According to the Chengdu base, only a third to a half of pandas born in Chinese captivity manage to survive past infancy.

There was good news last month, though, when a panda gave birth to a healthy set of triplets in China's Chimelong Safari Park in the southern city of Guangzhou. The cubs are thought to be the only living panda triplets in the world.

Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland thinks its panda, Tian Tian, could be the next to produce a cub, based on the latest scientific tests, but there are no guarantees.

"It is very likely that we will not know 100% if Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth," Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said earlier this month.

As few as 1,600 giant pandas survive in the mountain forests of central China, according to the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo in Washington. More than 300 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world, most of them in China.

READ: Thanks to science, there are more baby pandas

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:14 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
updated 5:43 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 7:39 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT