Famous giant panda fools China with phantom pregnancy

By Daniel S Levine,

A famous giant panda was supposed to star in the first live broadcast of a panda birth in China this week. Unfortunately, it was discovered that the 6-year-old panda was not actually pregnant and the live broadcast was cancelled.

Ai Hin was expected to give birth at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center, but officials there told the Xinhua news agency Monday that Ai Hin was not actually pregnant. They rushed to scrap the highly anticipated broadcast.

They said that Ai Hin had a “phantom pregnancy,” showing signs that she was pregnant. While this is common among pandas because of progestational hormone changes, they suggested that Ai Hin may have had a “phantom pregnancy” since humans were treating her so nicely.

“After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care,” expert Wu Kongju told Xinhua. “They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life.”

As the Washington Post notes, it is notoriously difficult to find out if a giant panda is actually pregnant, especially since giant panda fetuses can be small and missed in an ultrasound.

Ai Han had appeared to be pregnant because she was less mobile, had a reduced appetite and experienced a surge in progestational hormone last month. However, after she was observed for two months, her behavior went back to normal.

Pandas are endangered, with only around 1,600 in the wild. The 300 held in captivity have trouble breeding, with only 24 percent of females giving birth.

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