It was a cause for celebration when staff at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre in China discovered panda Ai Hin was pregnant.
The public was so excited about Ai Hin’s pending birth that plans were made to broadcast the six-year-old panda’s birth live.
It would have been the world’s first live broadcast of the birth of panda cubs.
Alas, those live plans have now been shelved after it was discovered Ai Hin was not really pregnant.
The center now believes that Ai Hin had what it told Xinhua News, the official Chinese news agency, a “phantom pregnancy.”
Phantom pregnancy is common among the endangered bears. Non-pregnant pandas can exhibit prenatal behaviors as a result of progestational hormone changes.
Experts say sometimes the pandas, noticing the difference in treatment after exhibiting initial signs of pregnancy, may carry on with the pregnant behavior.
Ai Hin figured all the extra attention she was getting–including extra food such as extra servings of buns, bamboo and an air condition room–was a good thing.
So she continued to exhibit the behaviour of being pregnant, according to expert Wu Kongiu at the Chengdu Base.
After showing prenatal signs, the ‘mothers-to-be’ are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life.”
Some of the signs of being pregnant included loss of appetite, lethargy and an increase in progestational hormone levels. Ai Hin showed all those signs in July.
But a month later her hormone levels and appetite and mobility have returned to normal.
Ai Hin was born in captivity and has a twin brother. They were born in Japan in 2006 and returned to China in 2012.
There are only 1,600 pandas living still in the wild, mainly in the region of Sichuan. Another 300 are held in captivity in zoos.
Just one out of every four female pandas give birth. A low number that likely played a role in the over-excitement generated by Ai Hin’s fake pregnancy.
photo credit: China News Service