Programme S

A steep learning curve: the first 26 years (1963 to 1989)

Early efforts to breed giant pandas in captivity were frustrated by the animals' strong selectivity in mate preference, the failure of many individuals (particularly males) to breed, low conception rates and high neonatal mortality. The first cub produced in 1963 at the Beijing Zoo [Studbook, SB, 60] resulted from the natural breeding of two wild-born pandas that had been captured in Baoxing four and five years earlier. The cub's sire (SB 31) died within a few months of this milestone birth, and the dam (SB 25) reproduced only two more times before she died 18 years later. During his 26 years of life, this 'inaugural' cub never bred. This, unfortunately, was a preview of things to come. In the first quarter century of ex situ giant panda reproduction, only 30% of the animals reproduced, with a neonatal mortality of more than 60% (Fig. 19.1). The number of reproductively mature pandas in the captive population rose in that period from 12 to 88, primarily through the capture of wild-born

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