The Smithsonian's National Zoo has worked over the years to understand and protect giant pandas and their habitats. When the Zoo became involved in panda conservation in 1998, there were 104 giant pandas in captivity. Today, there are 258, with a growth rate of about eight percent per year.
Highlights of Smithsonian’s National Zoo Accomplishments
in the Field of Panda Research
- Zoo scientists established through studies that pandas prefer certain types of bamboo.
- Collaborated on the first studies of associative learning abilities in giant pandas. Giant pandas use spatial memory to locate food but appear to be relatively inflexible in learning new spatial distributions of food. This reinforces the need to maintain all extant habitats.
- Developed alternative anesthesia methods for giant pandas living in captivity in China.
- Produced methods for measuring hormone concentrations in the feces of giant pandas, which have greatly expanded the amount of knowledge about their unique reproductive biology.
- Used new laboratory tools in measuring metabolism to assess giant panda sperm function as well as continued developing improved methods for panda sperm processing and cryopreservation using a field-friendly technique.
- Developed an improved understanding of male giant panda reproductive biology, especially sperm processing for artificial insemination (AI). This has helped the Chinese achieve a 50 percent success rate using AI with fresh or cold-stored sperm.
- Developed an improved understanding of the onset of puberty in male giant pandas and influence of season on reproductive traits.
- Monitored reproductive and adrenal hormones in Mei Xiang to document hormonal changes associated with lactation.
- Provided routine endocrine evaluations of reproductive hormones of Mei Xiang to aid in timing artificial inseminations and for tracking subsequent pseudopregnancy.
- Provided technical assistance and advice on estimating time of ovulation to colleagues at the Chengdu Research Base, Chiang Mai Zoo (Thailand) and Memphis Zoo.
- Assisted in creating a modern Giant Panda Genome Resource Bank at the Chengdu and Wolong breeding centers.
- Contributed to developing the first ever genetic management program of giant pandas in China to avoid inbreeding and to keep the population healthy.
- Trained more than 600 Chinese professionals in conservation techniques beneficial to the giant panda and its habitat.
- Bridged the technology gap by providing computers, software, GPS equipment and data needed to continue giant panda management and conservation in 16 Chinese reserves.
- Used observation and studies of giant pandas at the National Zoo to revise the housing and maintenance standards for the Giant Panda Husbandry Manual being developed by the Species Survival Plan Management Group.