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Panda "Porn" to Boost Mating Efforts at Thai Zoo

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
November 13, 2006
 
Sometimes married couples just need to add a little spice to their love lives.

A Thai zoo is hoping that "panda pornography" will spark romance between its two giant pandas, which were married by proxy last November in an elaborate Chinese-style ceremony.

Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui have called Thailand's Chiang Mai Zoo home for the past four years. Zoo officials had hoped that the warm Thai climate would spark the pandas' hormones and trigger their desire to mate.

But the animals, on loan from China for ten years, have yet to start a family.

A first mating attempt earlier this year failed to produce offspring, and the pandas have remained platonic pals since then—prompting officials to launch their unique plan.

"They don't know how to mate, so we need to show the male how through videos," project chief Prasertsak Buntrakoonpoontawee told the Reuters news service.

Chuang Chuang, the six-year-old male, will view films of other mating pandas when scientists judge him to be relaxed and receptive—perhaps just after a tasty dinner.

If all goes well, the racy video will be both instructional and inspirational, showing Chuang Chuang the reproductive ropes and causing him to see five-year-old Lin Hui in an entirely different light.

Captive Breeding Essential, But Not Easy

Wild pandas are so reclusive that it is extremely difficult for scientists to study their natural reproductive habits.

Their solitary nature could mean that even some wild animals are unsure of themselves with the opposite sex.

As a result, captive panda breeding has been historically difficult. Yet over the past decade international facilities have acquired a lot of hard-earned knowledge to increase the odds.

For example, the animals are able to breed during only a few days each year, so a suitable male and female must be paired up at precisely the right time.

Once a panda is conceived—naturally or through artificial insemination—new problems arise.

Many young pandas die soon after birth. Newborn cubs weigh 3 to 5 ounces (85 to 142 grams)—just 1/900 of their mother's weight, according to the international conservation group WWF.

The babies are susceptible to pneumonia and other ailments and are totally dependent upon their mothers, which are often inexperienced as parents.

(Related news: "Baby Panda Crushed by Mother in China Zoo" [September 8, 2006].)

Despite the challenges, success rates have soared in recent years. According to Xinhua, China's state news agency, this year more pandas have already been born in captivity than in any other year on record.

China's Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in Sichuan Province has enjoyed the biggest baby boom so far—dozens of pandas born at the center have survived.

The efforts have boosted the country's stock of captive pandas to over 180 individuals. And each panda is important, experts say, as only 1,600 to 3,000 of the animals are believed to exist in the wild.

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