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Giant Panda Faked Pregnancy to Get More Food and Care: Experts

Aug 28, 2014 03:06 AM EDT
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Giant panda Ai Hin has been accused of faking her pregnancy to get extra food and attention.

Six-year-old Ai Hin, who lives at the Chengdu Breeding Research Centre, was expected to star in the world's first-ever live broadcast of a panda giving birth. But now, panda experts believe that Ai Hin might have faked her pregnancy to get attention and improve her quality of life.

"Phantom pregnancies" are quite common in giant pandas. What makes Ai Hin's case distinct, according to panda experts, is that she might have acted pregnant to get attention from the staff and trick them into providing her with better food and care.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and round-the-clock care," Wu Kongju, an employee at the Centre, told Xinhua.

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

Ai Hin showed signs of being pregnant in July. The panda moved slowly and even had a spike in progestational hormone, Xinhua reported. However, within two months the staff at the Chengdu Breeding Research Centre found that Ai Hin's "behavior and physiological indexes returned to normal" after she was moved to a better facility at the Centre, The Telegraph reports.

Giant pandas are solitary creatures and seldom breed in captivity, CNN reports. These animals have a very low reproduction rate, as the females are in estrus (in heat) for only 12 to 25 days each spring. Females can mate only within two to seven days during this brief fertility window. Pandas are usually fertile for just about 24 to 36 hours in a year and there is no telling whether a female is really pregnant or not. Experts have to rely on certain signs such as movement or hormonal changes to spot a pregnancy. Pseudo-pregnancies are actually quite common in giant pandas.

Conservation efforts have helped save giant pandas from going extinct. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the number of giant pandas in the wild is increasing. The last full survey of panda populations found that there are about 1,600 individuals in the wild.

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