Suboftimal Nutrition

Nutrition and nutrient status can obviously impact on any individual's health, including growth, reproduction and disease resistance. Our approach was to secure detailed information at each institution on feeding, dietary husbandry and nutrient contents, while relating these findings to parallel metrics of body weight, anatomical measurements and body condition scores (see Chapters 4 and 6). During the Survey, it became apparent that individual institutions were exploring dietary alternatives to the usual feeding of bamboo. The reason was primarily one of logistics and convenience, especially for large centres holding many giant pandas. An adult individual can consume 6-10 kg of the 10-18 kg of bamboo offered per day; finding, cutting, transporting and feeding this amount of vegetation is a challenge. Chinese managers have used substitute diets (high starch bread or gruel) which help to reduce labour and feeding costs.

Our most significant finding was that the use of these alternative diets caused lower-than-expected dry matter and fibre intakes. These substitutes provided a high-energy, highly digestible diet, which, in turn, resulted in lower faecal output than observed in giant pandas fed strictly with bamboo. Abnormal mucous stool output tended to be frequent in some individuals, which may have been related to the high starch and low fibre in the alternative diets. In turn, reproductive success was lower in pandas fed an insufficient bamboo diet, which perhaps was related to inadequate fibre intake.

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