'Clever' Chinese panda fakes pregnancy for more bamboo, air-conditioned room: zookeeper
Ai Hin, a six-year-old panda at a Chinese zoo, was due to give birth on live TV, but the show was called off when zookeepers learned she wasn’t actually pregnant. One expert said she make have faked motherhood when she noticed how much extra attention — and extra food — expecting bears get.
BY Meg Wagner
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 10:57 AM
Zookeepers thought their panda was expecting cub. She was expecting more bamboo.
A crafty panda at a Chinese zoo faked a pregnancy and reaped all the mommy-to-be benefits while zookeepers prepared for a cub that would never arrive.
Ai Hin was supposed to give birth on live TV — the world’s first televised panda birth — but her caretakers called off the show when the discovered she wasn’t actually pregnant, China’s state news agency, Xinhua, reported.
The six-year-old panda had a “phantom pregnancy,” Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center officials said. That means the non-pregnant bear had all the early signs of pregnancy, such as hormonal and physical changes, but no baby.
Experts aren’t quite sure why the bear appeared to be pregnant when she wasn’t.
One theory: More bamboo.
Phantom pregnancies are common in pandas, and many female bears experience hormone changes even when they’re not expecting.
When zookeepers first thought Ai Hin was pregnant in July, they gave her the pampered treatment all soon-to-be panda moms get: A private air-conditioned room, 24/7 care and a bounty of fruit, bamboo and buns.
The base’s workers indulged the bear for two months — until her tests came back normal and the caretakers realized they weren’t awaiting a birth.
Fake pregnancies are common in the endangered species, but some shrewd bears take the motherhood scam a step further.
"Some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life," said Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu base.
That means it’s possible that Ai Hin kept up the pregnancy illusion once she saw the perks — the love, the attention and the extra bamboo — of impending motherhood,
Still, Ai Hin may not deserve the con artist label. Panda fetuses are tiny, so it’s hard to detect them on an ultrasound, the Washington Post explained.
"Pandas and other bears don’t make it real easy to tell whether or not they are pregnant," Matt Thompson, director of animal programs at the Memphis Zoo, told ABC News.
So zookeepers treat any bear that seems pregnant with the same care: real baby or pseudo-pregnancy.
Experts are quick to nature any possible panda pregnancy because the breed is endangered: There are only 1,600 pandas in the wild and about 300 in zoos around the world.
Plus, most pandas in captivity don’t breed: Only 24 percent will give birth during their lifetime.