June 9, 2008
Giant Panda Mating Sequence Caught on Film
Researchers have successfully filmed the giant panda's mating process in the wild.
A team of BBC Natural History researchers recorded the process in the bamboo forest along China's Qinling mountains. The sequence was shot for BBC Two's Wild China series.
During their observations, scientists discovered strange mating behaviors that are rarely displayed in zoos.
Pictures show a male panda having to fight off the competition as he tries to woo and finally win a female.
The giant male panda uses loud barking and shouting, similar to the Wookie character from the Star Wars movies.
"I liken it to Chewbaccas in a pub brawl," explained Gavin Maxwell, the producer of Wild China.
"Most of the time, pandas live by themselves. It's only in the mating season that they come together; and that's when they start these extraordinary vocalizations.
"The sounds are so unlikely and just the last thing you would expect a panda to make.
"When you get two or three males together with a female there's an awful lot of barking and shouting going on."
Months of preparations and negotiations with Chinese officials were necessary to obtaining the filmed sequence, which required an awful lot of patience and skill, and quite a bit of luck.
Those involved with the project said it was difficult to get very close to the pandas' location since the Qinling mountains are outlined with a very thick growth of bamboo.
If you make too much noise, the creatures will be long gone by the time you find their location.
"They're like mini-quad bikes and once they go, they're off and they're very hard to keep up with," recalled Mr Maxwell.
Eventually, researchers found a spot where they could film the sequence from across a ravine.
The footage shows the largest male chasing his competitors away from the female. He finally gets his girl when she descends from her tree.
This is not the first time panda sex has been filmed in the wild, but it is thought to be one of the most complete courtship sequences ever caught on camera.
"Occasionally, you will be sitting there quietly trying to keep in the background and the males will suddenly come charging out of the bamboo towards you," he explained.
"They're really fired up, they're breathing hard and panting, and you can see the steam coming out of their mouths. They seem like different creatures altogether."
On the Net:
BBC Natural History
VIDEO: A female takes refuge up a tree as the males compete for her attentions