The symbol of endangered animal species
The WWF’s emblematic animal, the Giant Panda has become the symbol of “Endangered” animals. There are now only about 1,600 of them left, spread over 64 nature reserves in central China, in the mountains of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu. And there are very few of them in zoos.
Days spent... eating!
In morphological terms, the panda is a bear but it is essentially vegetarian, eating practically nothing but bamboo, from which its ursine digestive tract enables it to extract only a part of the nutritional value. It is therefore obliged to eat almost all the time and it is unable to store enough reserves of fat to allow it to hibernate during the winter. Its mountain habitat is very rainy and rather cold : the Giant Pandas of Pairi Daiza, which have thick fur, therefore appreciate our Belgian weather. Endowed with powerful claws, pandas easily climb trees. They have a sixth finger which is a bony growth on their wrist, opposite the other fingers, which enables them to hold bamboo stems. In view of their very low reproduction rate and the threats to their habitat, the species is classified as “Vulnerable”.
The only giant panda born in Belgium
In Pairi Daiza, you can see three giant pandas:
- Xing Hui (male – 22/07/2009) Arrived in Pairi Daiza in February 2014.
- Hao Hao (female – 07/07/2009) Arrived in Pairi Daiza in February 2014.
- Tian Bao (male – 02/06/2016) Born in Pairi Daiza, he is the baby of Hao Hao and Xing Hui.
A “vulnerable” species
- Name: Giant Panda
- Latin name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
- Origin: China
- IUCN status: Vulnerable
- Cites: Appendix I
Working to assist the breeding of giant pandas
Jella Wauters heads up the research programme entitled “Metabolomics in the Giant Panda: unraveling the reproductive biology” at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Ghent, for the Pairi Daiza Foundation. This study aims to develop a test that will enable scientists anywhere in the world to predict the period when the female panda is in heat (a few weeks before it starts) based on hormonal markers present in the animal's urine.
The fertility period of a female giant panda occurs only once a year, and only lasts one to three days. While fertilisation may take place during this short period of time, the rest of the pregnancy remains a huge mystery. The exact term of the pregnancy, miscarriages and/or the reasons for the absorption of the foetus by the reproductive system in the female giant panda are still not known.
The hormonal markers, which are central to the work of Jella Wauters, will also be able to indicate the precise moment of ovulation and to enable the progress of one of the most mysterious pregnancies in the animal kingdom to be monitored - ultimately, and significantly, increasing the chances of reproduction, not only in zoos and breeding centres in China, but also in nature.