For pandas, familiarity breeds contempt, not cubs
February 19, 1999
SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- How do you entice panda bears to mate? The answer: You keep them apart. That's what scientists at the San Diego Zoo are discovering about their panda pair, Shi shi and Bai yun.
When Shi shi and Bay yun were first moved to the zoo from China, it was impossible to know if the pair would be compatible, said animal behaviorist Ron Swaisgood.
Two years and two mating seasons after, efforts to pair the two have been unsuccessful.
Now, zoo scientists, working side-by-side with researchers from China, are learning about how to play cupid to the pandas.
First rule: Keep the two apart.
Pandas, by nature, are solitary creatures, and too much familiarity can reduce the males' interest in breeding, experts say.
By keeping the bears separate, researchers hope the male, Shi shi, will become more excited when he gets a whiff of Bay yun's scent during mating season.
Researchers also are studying ways to improve the survival rate of panda babies. When twins are born, frequently one dies.
"Almost always the mother will reject one baby and care for the other," says hormone specialist Nancy Czekala.
Considering that China is the only place where giant pandas are found in the wild, and there are only about 1,000 left, scientists are making every effort to increase the birth rate in captivity and keep every baby panda alive.
Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.
Pandas are cute, but can be violent
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