Priorities For The Future

Studies to date have confirmed that bamboo must be the primary food in all captive giant panda diets. To ensure that the most suitable material is provided for feeding:

1. Consistent sources of several bamboo species should be identified in amounts sufficient to permit free-choice consumption.

2. Supplies should be readily available and easily accessible.

3. Routine nutrient analyses and heavy-metal screening should be performed to monitor seasonal variability and to guarantee high quality.

Although there are no quantitative data on the impact of toxicants (including heavy metals) on giant panda health, some breeding facilities are located in, or adjacent to, densely populated urbanised areas where pollution is common. Thus, the issue of influence of environmental contaminants may well be worthy of attention.

In terms of research priorities, there remains a serious lack of scholarly information on the adaptations that permit a giant panda to use and thrive on bamboo as the primary dietary component. The implications of such a diet have been well described (Schaller et al, 1985; Pan, 1988) but the mechanisms by which this species is able to accomplish this lifestyle have yet to be defined. Additionally, much of the knowledge regarding the digestive ontogeny of giant pandas is derived from studies of captive specimens. Such information is biased by the production-style management techniques that are generally used. Feeding diets that better mimic the physical forms and nutrient and energy concentrations of foods consumed by wild counterparts would yield new insights into normal growth, development and maturation of mother-reared animals in captivity. Furthermore, it appears that the phenomenon of mucous stools and irregular stool output may be related to consumption of low-fibre/high-starch diets and/or the effect of sporadic or irregular feeding of foods that vary widely in nutrient content (e.g. bamboo versus nutrient- or energy-dense items). More details on what provokes a mucous stool and how to avoid it would be worthwhile.

There is also a need for continued standardisation of data collection, including the routine use of body and faecal scoring systems, which could further our understanding about the physiology and health of the collective ex situ population. Gathering parallel data from individuals living in nature would also allow improving the development, evaluation and routine application of better dietary management strategies ex situ.

Finally, an essential priority is to develop sufficient bamboo supplies to support the rapidly growing captive population. Selecting appropriate bamboo species and then producing adequate and sustainable quantities of high-quality plants are critical to the long-term viability of captive giant pandas in China and in the west.

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