#1 By: Maggie Koerth-Baker, December 25th, 2013 13:34
#2 By: Bobo the talking chimp, December 25th, 2013 14:26
To be a bit pedantic, "luck" would imply that the scientists are not gathering data, analyzing it, and creating conditions that are progressively more favorable to panda reproduction.
I'd argue that while there may be a little "luck" or random happenstance involved, but there's probably a lot more science and hard work involved.
#3 By: bwv812, December 25th, 2013 14:53
It's also not clear that they are getting better at breeding pandas. So long as the number of pandas born in captivity exceeds deaths, you would expect the numbers of births per year to keep growing. Start off with 2 rabbits and let them breed to their hearts content, and you'll be getting record-setting numbers of rabbit births every year, too. Surely some sort of fecundity ratio for pandas of breeding age would be a more appropriate metric. Of course you would then want to see if changes in the reproduction rate are statistically significant before concluding that improved fecundity is correlated (let alone caused) by scientific advances.
#4 By: technogeek, December 25th, 2013 15:14
Getting pandas to reproduce at all in captivity has been a huge challenge. It doesn't take a huge amount of progress over zero to legitimately claim "better", and this is starting to actually become a reasonably well understood problem rather than a mystery. It's progress worth applauding even it if isn't yet a complete solution.
If they can crack cheetah reproduction in captivity, I'll stand up and cheer; Cheetahs don't breed without lots of open space to chase each other across; apparently physical stress has something to do with triggering appropriate endocrine cycles, which is part of why cheetahs are so highly endangered (and have so little genetic variation) even in the wild. As far as I know, biologists haven't yet figured out what those triggers are... which is a pity both from the point of view of preserving an amazing species and (more selfishly) because cheetahs are the one big cat which can be reliably domesticated.
#5 By: E Et, December 25th, 2013 18:02
Is the wild panda population rising?
If not, are there more baby pandas now?
Compared to 5 or 100 years ago?
#6 By: Falcor the Don't Push Your Luckdragon, December 25th, 2013 18:17
Never give up; and good luck will find you.
#7 By: technogeek, December 25th, 2013 18:50
Websearching "panda population" should give some indication of the answers to those questions.
Understanding them better may be one step toward helping them in the wild. It's certainly one step toward being able to keep the species from going extinct while we try to find ways to help them in the wild. It's certainly not a solution yet, and may never be a solution, but it's emphatically not wasted effort.
And since we're going to keep some pandas in zoos anyway, not trying to understand them better would be a criminal waste of resources.
#8 By: Suzanne, December 26th, 2013 09:13
I once watched a documentary on giant pandas. I was deeply impressed with their level of laziness. It seems that sex is way way way down on the list after napping, chewing bamboo, and flipping the occasional somersault just for the cuteness. Whats amazing is not that the zoos are better at getting them to mate than they are on their own, but that their species ever procreated given their near total disinterest in any activity that involves effort.
#9 By: technogeek, December 26th, 2013 11:29
MOST animals operate on the principle that, when it is not necessary to do something, it is necessary to not do anything. Gathering calories is an expensive process, especially for a large creature. Cows don't do a lot more than chew and nap either.
You need to spend energy finding food. If you're territorial you may need to spend energy on patrolling the bounds. If you're a pack animal, you need to spend energy maintaining your pack status. If you're a prey animal, you need to spend energy avoiding being eaten. If you're an infant, you need to spend energy learning to be an adult, which accounts for most "play". You need to spend energy finding a potential mate, though that may be seasonal. You need to build up energy reserves to last you through the off-season or any unusual situations that arise.
Homo sap has the advantages of (potentially) being able to store surplus uneaten food and of having pack status determined in part by things that look like play (including sex, which we've folded into our grooming behavior repertoire). Most critters have other priorities, and wasting energy is not one of them.
#10 By: bwv812, December 26th, 2013 13:12
Well, we don't see many cows in herds with intact males and fertile females. And if we did, I'm pretty sure there would be a lot of mating going on when a cow is in estrus.
The most necessary things for animals to do is procreate. This is why they eat, why they try to maintain or advance their pack status, and why they avoid being eaten. Passing on their genetic material is, by definition, what makes a species successful.
#11 By: Maggie Koerth-Baker, December 30th, 2013 13:33
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