BEIJING – Hopes for a high-profile panda birth were dashed Thursday when keepers in China discovered the animal not actually pregnant after all. Six-year-old giant panda, Ai Lin, of the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center, was slated to be the focus of what was billed as the first live broadcast of the birth of a panda cub. But China’s Xinhua news agency reported that keepers discovered Ai Lin in fact had a “phantom pregnancy” – a common panda phenomenon in which indicators of a pregnancy turn out to be false. Giant pandas have notoriously difficult pregnancies, with only 24 percent of female pandas in captivity giving birth.
Panda experts say it is not uncommon for giant pandas to demonstrate prenatal signs such as decreased activity level, a lack of appetite and heightened hormone levels even when they aren’t pregnant. It is also possible that pandas have noticed the extra care offered by keepers. "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 fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life," panda expert Wo Kongju joked to Xinhua.
Despite the phantom pregnancy for Ai Lin, it’s still been a productive summer for giant pandas. On July 29, 12-year-old Ju Xiao gave birth to a trio of cubs, making them the first known newborn triplets to survive.
— Ed Flanagan
First published August 28 2014, 7:21 AM