Picky Pandas: Female Preference Helps Panda Population

Female pandas need a proper living space to care for youngsters. Photo Credit: Mihail Moore/ABG Films

(PANDA BEARS) CHINA — Panda bears prefer to live in large bamboo forests isolated from human contact. Moreover, a recent study indicates that female pandas consider less living spaces than males since they need to raise their young in a suitable environment. With this new knowledge, conservationists will be able to help female pandas find the best habitats possible, giving the panda population an opportunity to flourish. Read on to learn more about a female panda’s specific living needs. — Global Animal

Female pandas need a proper living space to care for youngsters. Photo Credit: Mihail Moore/ABG Films

BBC Nature, Matt Walker

Giant pandas are solitary animals confined to highly fragmented montane forests in remote China. Scientists well understand the basic type of habitat pandas need to survive, which tends to be forests above 1500m rich in bamboo, the pandas’ main food. The animals generally avoid higher peaks lacking bamboo and lower areas dominated by people. But the specific requirements of males and females has been largely ignored until now. The scientists’ study confirmed that both sexes prefer to live in areas at higher altitudes and with high forest cover.

But female pandas are more picky than males. They tend to limit their movements to within high altitude conifer forests and mixed forests, as well as historically clear-felled forest. They also prefer habitat that slopes at between 10 and 20 degrees. Such areas are better for raising young. Female pandas are selective about their den sites and often make dens in stands of large conifer trees more than 200 years old. That also suggests that den sites may be limited in logged areas. Males, in contrast, range more widely, covering areas that overlap the ranges of several females.

This segregation of the sexes should be accounted for in conservation and management efforts to safeguard the giant panda, say the researchers. In particular, it should be recognised that female giant pandas have a narrower habitat preference than males. That means they are likely to be disproportionately affected by habitat loss and people exploiting the forest. It should also be taken into account when breeding programmes release giant pandas back into the wild. Roads don’t appear to have as great an impact on the movements of giant pandas as previously thought, say the researchers. Females are often found near abandoned logging trails, though this could be an artefact of the number of roads of this type that crisscross the region. Males tend to frequent habitat close to roads used by vehicles, perhaps due to their need to move greater distances to find prospective female mates.