Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Panda news round-up



Several British papers have carried a story about the Brit Insurance Design Awards. I don’t know much about these and they are probably quite important and worthy of news coverage. But what was interesting for me was to see that The Design Museum, which has an exhibition of shortlisted entries for the awards, has managed to get lots of coverage by allowing editors to reproduce photographs of a panda-based entry. I have previously blogged about Panda Eyes by Jason Bruges, which is an array of decommissioned WWF collecting boxes that sense movement and follow you wherever you go (see YouTube video above). On Monday this week, a panel of judges picked a winner from each of the 7 categories and then chose an overall winner. Their choice will be revealed on the Culture Show on BBC2 next Thursday 4 March. They’ll just have to choose the panda won’t they?

Panda News
reports that the young Zoo Atlanta panda youngster Xi Lan has just started to be weaned from his mother Lun Lun. He is 18-months old and you may be able to catch a glimpse of him on the zoo’s pandacam – if you’re lucky. I interviewed Zoo Atlanta’s curator of mammals Rebecca Snyder last week, who has been studying the consequences of different weaning regimes for a young panda as it matures. In the wild, a dam will normally wean her cub when it’s between 18 and 30 months old. In captivity, it’s common practice to separate mothers and their cubs at 6 months to bring the female into heat again in the following spring. “Given the long-term , detrimental effects that other species experience with early social life disruptions, it is essential to examine the influence of contemporary rearing practices on the giant panda, especially on subsequent sexual, maternal and agonistic behaviours,” she and her colleagues wrote in 2006. In a study on pandas at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding and Chengdu Zoo, Snyder and friends have been following the fortune of several young pandas to see if they can detect any obvious (and not so obvious) differences between those cubs weaned at six months and those weaned at a year. This is ongoing work but the early findings (published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology in 2003) indicates that cubs that are reared with their peer-group do not get as much social stimulation as those that grow up with their mothers. When I get to Chengdu in a couple of weeks’ time, I hope to find out more about the latest findings from Panda Base director Zhang Zhihe.

I missed this story in my last panda news round-up. According to an Associated Press story from 9 February, a wild panda stranded on a mountainside was “lured” to safety with bananas. What’s interesting about this very brief and apparently frivolous snippet is that the villagers who discovered it did not attempt a rescue effort themselves. Instead they called in the authorities. “The panda is a national treasure, so everyone’s scared to hurt it," a forestry official said. It’s now more than 20 years since China introduced stiff penalties (including – in certain situations – the death penalty) for anyone messing with wild pandas.

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