First panda cub born using frozen sperm

Sat, Jul 25, 2009, 01:00

SUMMER IS panda baby time, and the Chinese media is full of feel-good stories about the birth of cubs at various zoos and research facilities across the country, but You You’s baby is a true pioneer in this endangered species.

Wolong giant panda research centre has happily announced the first successful birth of a panda cub from artificial insemination using frozen sperm, which opens up a range of new options for the famously breeding-unfriendly bears.

The pink, hairless cub, born on July 23rd, is You You’s third offspring, and the 10th panda cub born at Wolong this year, according to the centre’s website.

A major advance in helping the panda-breeding programme came in 1980, when scientists learnt how to freeze panda sperm in liquid hydrogen, but it hasn’t worked for a live birth until now.

Wolong has worked on methods of maintaining sperm vitality after thawing to maintain the quality of the sperm from male panda Lolo, which had been frozen for a number of years, researchers at the centre said.

The giant panda is one of the world’s most endangered species and is found only in China. There are about 1,600 pandas in the wild – mainly in the mountains of Sichuan province – and a couple of hundred in captivity. Pandas are also threatened by loss of habitat and poaching.

Captive pandas are famously poor breeders – they spend most of the year on their own, except during the mating season, which begins in March.

Females in the wild normally have a cub once every two or three years.

The fertility of captive giant pandas is even lower. Male pandas show little interest in sex – more than 60 per cent of them in captivity show no sexual desire at all, and only a tenth of them will mate naturally.

In 2006, 34 pandas were born through artificial insemination in China and 30 survived – both record numbers for the endangered species.