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Open letter to giant pandas

Dear Giant Pandas... Penny Dinh describes the weird and wonderful love life of the giant panda


Dear Giant Pandas,

As the annual doom of Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I cannot help but laugh at my non-existent love life. That is until I recently found out about yours, so pathetic that as many as 900,000 people would rejoice whenever you breed.

Giant pandas, you guys are truly the odd ones. You only ever eat bamboo, while all other bear species are giant meat eaters. And you barely ever breed. World record for breeding via natural insemination in your species is two babies within four years! And even with the invention of artificial insemination, your population plateau at just over 1,600 pandas in the wild, and around 300 in captivity. No wonder you are on the brink of extinction! We truly want to help you, but it is just so difficult.

Giant panda cubs. Source: flickr

We know that female members of your species have such a narrow fertile window. You only ovulate once a year, between March and May, and the window that a male panda has to inseminate you is only about 36 to 40 hours. If the male panda misses this window, he will have to wait till next spring in order to breed again. And can we even rely on male pandas for acting on this opportunity in time? Even if they grab this opportunity and swipe right, I don’t think you would easily swipe right to one of those violent boys. The media representation of pandas being docile is so fake; I know male pandas are so violent that zoos often keep them separated to avoid pandas from killing each other. They have not got amazing track record of being great childrearers either. How can they expect to get laid with such attitude?

Giant pandas, you guys are truly the odd ones

We once thought that you pandas might lack sex drive. We could put a female member and a male member of your species together in the same cage, and no sexual activity would happen. Some of us went so far as giving Viagra, and showing panda porn to male members of your species, hoping to increase their sex drive. That did not help at all.

However, we later found that sex drive deficiency was not necessarily the culprit, but rather lack of mate choices. Female members of your species were found to be more likely to breed when offered a choice of mates, when you could compare the fitness of at least two male pandas competing for your attraction. We get it, we want the boys to fight for you! Interestingly, we found that you tend to prefer males deemed less genetically preferable by us, which could explain we were not of much help to you, since we mostly focus on genetic diversity rather than your needs. If only we could understand what you want in a mate though!

Giant panda mother and cub. Source:flickr

One last thing to the ladies again: how do we know if you are actually pregnant? Your foetuses are so small that it is impossible for us to detect them by ultrasound. In addition, a lot of you experience pseudopregnancy, i.e. showing physiological and behavioural signs of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. How can we even catfish you? Seriously, we could help you a lot more if we knew when you are actually pregnant.

This letter goes out to all you lady pandas out there. If only your physiology were easier to understand; if only we could know what you wanted in a mate; and if only you could be slutty a bit and sleep with whoever we present you with, that would make our life so much easier. And to all male pandas out there, you better fix your solitary, and rather violent attitude if you want to get laid on Valentine’s Day.

Yours sincerely,

A frustrated scientist


Giant pandas aren’t the only ones with peculiar love lives – check out Graham Moore’s article on flirting in the animal kingdom!

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