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The Captive Panda Breeding Boondoggle: The Invisible Side

Pandas are intensely private animals, and feel safest well off-the-ground and well hidden by foliage. In captivity, a pregnant female sits on the floor of a small cell, enclosed by iron bars and cement.

MARC BEKOFF: ‘Artificial insemination drives the reproduction of giant pandas in the breeding industry. Natural breeding in captivity is rare and dangerous, as the animals are poorly socialized and ill-equipped to manage the charged urgency of a mating event. Female pandas are forced into season each year, and are fertile just once for 24-48 hours. The window for impregnation is small, and the panda industry needs her to become pregnant. In the few hours of a female’s receptivity, she may be drugged and inseminated up to four times. In-between, she may also have to negotiate a male panda in the cell with her.

Wild pandas mate just fine, at a rate that is natural for the species. A healthy, wild female panda raises a cub every 3-5 years, and mates only between cubs. A cub remains with his mother for up to two years. At six months, he is no longer dependent on her for milk but spends another year or more learning. He learns from her how to succeed in the wild… Pandas, like many bears, feel safest well off the ground and well hidden by foliage. They are intensely private animals. In captivity, a pregnant female sits on the floor of a small cell, enclosed by iron bars and cement.

Chinese protocol dictates that she must be observed 24/7 “for safety”. She has no opportunity for privacy, choice of environment, relief from boredom, or escape from electric light, human noise, activity, and cigarette smoke. She huddles with her face in a corner in an effort to simulate a bit of peace. When the infant is born, human hands immediately snatch it from her. It is weighed, prodded, measured, and fed from a bottle. She is allowed to hold and nurse her baby for only a few minutes at a time. Minders hover at the bars and poke her if she tries to turn away to shield her infant. The cub is taken away to an incubator. Mother’s warmth, gentle tongue, and heartbeat are replaced by the isolating hum of a scientifically-controlled micro-environment…

The cubs are separated when they’re about two years old. Now begins a life of isolation and boredom, in addition to the relentless human proximity. When hormone levels rise with puberty, primordial urges rage ungoverned by behavioral skills a young bear would have learned during maternally-guided adolescence. Mating fails in confused aggression, and for this reason, is rarely allowed. The media makes fun of the “low sex drive” of pandas and laud the industry’s advances in artificial insemination… They will be injected with ketamine and strapped to pallets to procreate’. SOURCE…

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