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Panda Feces Reveal Indigestion Problems Prevent Them From Breeding

May 22, 2016 10:50 AM EDT
Giant Pandas Play After Snow In Hangzhou
HANGZHOU, CHINA - JANUARY 21: (CHINA OUT) A giant panda plays on snow at Hangzhou Zoo on January 21, 2016 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. Heavy snow falls in south China's Zhejiang Province in new year 2016 on Thursday.
(Photo : ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

Giant pandas may be cute, but these furry creatures have some trouble when it comes to getting some love action. According to a recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, giant pandas have some problems in digesting bamboo, which results to stomachaches and consequently, a not-so-active sex life.

The study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology analyzed samples of giant panda feces, which are usually a mixture of bamboo stalk and leaves. The researchers said that the giant panda's highly fibrous bamboo diet could not be broken down easily as the animal's digestive system is not designed for it.

Because giant pandas are classified as bears, their digestive system is designed to break down meat and small amounts of plant material. However, given that one-third of the giant pandas' diet are bamboo, this becomes a problem. As a result, the pandas suffer from stomachaches and excrete "membranous fecal pellets" or mucoid, which are actually the internal membrane of their gastrointestinal tract, as per Science Daily.

To conduct a full study, the researchers teamed up with the Memphis Zoo to collect data about the feeding behavior of the zoo's two giant pandas -- Le Le and Ya Ya. The researchers observed a dramatic shift in the pandas' eating habits, with an increase in leaf intake by August compared in winter and spring. Consequently, the amount of mucoid in their feces also increase during the said time.

Scientists think that this gestation problem among giant pandas is the main reason of their declining population and slow breeding rate.

"Gastrointestinal diseases are a major cause of mortality in wild and captive pandas but scientists understand very little about their digestive process," said Garret Suen, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of bacteriology and co-author of the study.

Suen added that the giant panda's bamboo diet is causing a "strong internal reaction" in the animals that lead to inflammation. "Pandas are basically shedding their gastrointestinal lining to allow for the replacement of those microbes. It's kind of like resetting the microbiome," he added.

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