For more than five decades, various nonhuman primate species have been studied to determine how early rearing experiences influence behaviour in later life. Because of this wealth of information, the nonhuman primate literature is extremely useful for application to the giant panda in developing appropriate methodologies, testing hypotheses and understanding the breadth of behavioural outcomes that might result from different types of early socialisation. Although we recognise the limitations of comparing these distantly related taxa, we believe that the depth of controlled nonhuman primate studies makes comparisons worthwhile and of scholarly interest. Given the close phylogenetic relationship between the giant panda and other carnivores within the superfamily Canoidea (Ewer, 1973; O'Brien et al, 1985), other species within this group may also be useful comparative models, and these are also briefly reviewed.
Giant pandas in captivity can experience inadequate sexual behaviour, maternal behavioural deficits and severe aggression, which is also common to bears, other carnivores and nonhuman primates. It is our general hypothesis that socialisation (particularly the early relationship between mother and cub) is important in the ontogeny of
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.
normal social behaviour. Our long-term goal is to develop and evaluate management interventions that will overcome behavioural inadequacies and contribute to creating a naturally reproducing, self-sustaining and genetically viable population (Lindburg et al., 1997; Zheng et al., 1997; Zhang et al., 2000; see also Chapter 21).
Most captive giant pandas are housed, bred and raised in breeding centres and zoos in China. Standard management practices include permanently separating cubs from their mothers before six months of age, which enables the adult female to cycle every year, reducing the interbirth interval and, presumably, increasing the number of offspring produced over an individual's life-time. However, in the wild, giant panda cubs remain with their mothers for 1.5 to 2.5 years (Schaller et al., 1985). Given the long-term, detrimental effects that other species experience with early social life disruptions (Carlstead, 1996), it is essential to examine the influence of contemporary rearing practices on the giant panda, especially on subsequent sexual, maternal and agonistic behaviours.
Was this article helpful?