Stunted Development Syndrome

During the Survey, the teams were struck by the poor condition of almost 15% of the evaluated population (9 of 61 individuals). These giant pandas were small in stature (Fig. 3.5; Plate II), usually with a distended abdomen (from ascites), a coarse hair coat and worn and stained teeth (see Chapter 4). Some animals appeared chronically ill, with purulent mucous streaming from the nares, weepy eyes and other symptoms. Due to the comparatively small size of these animals (which, generally, was only two-thirds of their healthy counterparts), this condition was labelled Stunted Development Syndrome. A more detailed

Figure 3.5. Giant panda with Stunted Development Syndrome (SB 325) (photograph by D. Janssen). (See also Plate II.)

examination of the health histories revealed that these pandas generally had experienced multiple chronic diseases (especially gastrointestinal distress) with an absence of sexual development and activity. For example, of the four females with this syndrome, only one (a wild-caught female, SB 358, with shortened limbs and frequent mucoid stools) had ever demonstrated oestrual activity.

The aetiology of this syndrome remains unknown (see Chapter 4). Five of the affected animals originated from one of the panda centres, indicating perhaps a strong relationship to a location-specific cause. Many of the symptoms related to this condition, particularly ascites, did not appear associated with clinical illnesses related to cardiac or hepatic failure. Additionally, there was no consistent correlation to abnormal serum chemistry values such as hypoproteinaemia (Zhang et al, 2000; B. Rideout, pers. comm). Speculative potential causes include suboptimal nutrition, infectious disease or an environmental toxicant.

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