Factors limiting reproductive success in the giant panda as revealed by a Biomedical Survey

susie ellis, donald l. janssen, mark s. edwards, jogayle howard, guangxin he, jianqiu yu, guiquan zhang, rongping wei, r. eric miller, david e. wildt introduction

There is surprisingly little published information about giant panda biology, especially in the life sciences. This poor quantity (and quality) of data has been due primarily to too few individual animals available for study and a traditional hands-off policy towards hands-on research in such a rare and high-profile species. However, recent changes (see Chapter 2) have created important, new opportunities for giant panda investigations. People responsible for ensuring that the species survives now realise that giant pandas living in zoos and breeding centres are a valuable research resource (see Chapter 1). It also has been recognised that this population must be intensively managed if it is truly to support giant pandas that are surviving precariously in nature. The intended result will be an ever-increasing amount of new, scholarly information and sufficient panda numbers to continue educating the public, helping to raise conservation funding, serving as a hedge against extinction, and even as a source of animals for potential reintroductions. However, these laudable goals can only be achieved by

Giant Pandas: Biology, Veterinary Medicine and Management, ed. David E. Wildt, Anju Zhang, Hemin Zhang, Donald L. Janssen and Susie Ellis. Published by Cambridge University Press. # Cambridge University Press 2006.

first understanding and then rigorously managing the captive population so that it becomes demographically and genetically stable. This, in fact, has become the mantra of Chinese managers of the ex situ population: 'to develop a self-sustaining, captive population of giant pandas that will assist supporting a long-term, viable population in the wild' (see Chapter 2).

When this goal was articulated in 1996 (Zheng et al., 1997) it was realised that it would be impossible to achieve without first learning what was prohibiting consistent reproduction. This prerequisite involved using a consistent array of modern interdisciplinary techniques to conduct a thorough examination of as many giant pandas as possible. It was believed that this multidimensional approach would allow the quick identification of limitations that, in turn, could be resolved. As each issue was addressed, the hope was that the population would become healthier and more reproductively fit, eventually becoming self-sustaining.

This chapter summarises the findings from examining 61 giant pandas over the three-year Biomedical Survey conducted at four institutions (Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and its associated Chengdu Zoo, Beijing Zoo, Chongqing Zoo and the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in the Wolong Nature Reserve). General methods and results are presented to lay a foundation for later chapters which deal with more specific and, in some cases, remediation efforts.

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