London, Dec 6 (ANI): In a critical breakthrough, conservationists in China have successfully raised 300 pandas in captivity.
The feat, mainly by scientists at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre, China, should lead to the first panda being reintroduced into the wild within 15 years, reports the BBC.
Female pandas are only on heat for 72 hours a year, and can only actually become pregnant during a 12 to 24 hour window during this time. Just a few thousand wild pandas survive at best, and the species is classified as being endangered.
The breeding program, started in 1963, faced many obstacles, the first of which was gaining insight into the panda's natural reproductive cycle.
Male pandas have proportionately short penises meaning pairs must adopt a very exact position in order to mate. During their observations, researchers found that pandas demonstrated poor knowledge of this position.
Researchers then employed methods ranging from sex education videos to viagra in order to stimulate natural behaviour.
Scientists therefore had to rely upon artificial insemination, but their efforts were again subject to the pandas' peculiar reproductive cycle. Researchers had to pay close attention to pandas following insemination procedures, ready to perform a crucial intervention whenever cubs were born.
More than half of pandas give birth to two cubs at a time but only care for one. Whenever a cub was abandoned after birth, keepers at the Chengdu centre swiftly moved it to an incubator.
Panda mothers were tricked into caring for twins as staff stealthily rotated them between their mother and the incubators.
The survival rate of cubs rose to 98 percent through this combination of maternal care and artificial support. By the end of last year, the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre alone had raised 168 cubs since its inception in 1987.
Conservationists now believe captive numbers are strong enough to seriously consider wild reintroduction programmes. With the goal of 300 captive pandas achieved, construction has started on the country's first dedicated panda reintroduction facility. (ANI)