Dr. Kersey Travels to China Part 2

May 29 – June 1, 2017: Chengdu Base Prior to this trip the Chengdu staff asked for my input on a study they wanted to conduct to investigate the hormonal factors associated with breeding and parenthood.  Via email we developed a plan and arranged for me to validate the hormone analyses while I was in China.  Over the course of several days I would design the validation steps and analyze the results at the Chengdu Base, and Jessica worked with the staff in the lab to carry out the wet lab procedures.  Although we were only able to complete about 95% of the validation procedures ourselves, we left in place very simple procedures to complete the validation the day after we left.  Additionally, Jessica developed protocols for the study tailored to the equipment and supplies of the Chengdu Base laboratory. Because Jessica handled the lab procedures of the study validation described above, I was able to spend one-on-one time with the Chengdu Base endocrinologist about the theory and practices behind validation.  Additionally, we were able to review the application of the knowledge throughout the week as results came in from the validation procedures Jessica was carrying out.  As a result of this integrated effort the Chengdu Base staff were able to grasp the knowledge and skills involved in validation. Finally, the long-standing contributions I have made to the hormone lab at the Chengdu Base prompted discussions of future studies we could conduct on the giant panda, with relation to reproduction and well-being. Conclusion of the Chengdu Base portion of the trip:  The ability to work with staff on theory while Jessica was able to follow through with laboratory work is ideal for intensive training in hormone monitoring techniques.  Although I have provided training to the staff in years past, there are many aspects of this methodology that are still evolving and even I have to take time out of my own research to learn new techniques and methodologies.  However, I think the training at the Chengdu Base was fruitful and the collaborations set up from this trip will bear fruit [...]

Dr. Kersey Travels to China Part 1

This journal is my summary of providing training and setting up research projects at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) Dujiangyan Base (DJY) and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (Chengdu Base) starting May 22nd and ending June 2nd, 2017. I have long-standing relationships with both facilities/organizations in the capacity of setting up and providing training on hormone monitoring techniques for giant pandas, particularly with regard to breeding. The purpose of the DJY portion of the trip was to provide follow-up training on endocrine monitoring techniques and set up a study that will permit accurate measurement of hormones in the feces of giant pandas in the wild. The purpose of the Chengdu Base portion of the trip was likewise to provide additional training on hormone monitoring techniques, set up a study to assess the hormone changes associated with parenthood and breeding, and discuss future research projects. In my summary below I will provide further detail about the activities for each facility, however before I do so I want to acknowledge that this trip would have not been possible without the generosity of Pandas International (PI).  PI has not only supported efforts for the betterment of giant pandas in China, but have also supported my activities in China; to that end I am deeply appreciative.  Additionally, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help provided by my assistant on this trip, Dr. Jessica Coote.  Dr. Coote worked in my lab when she was a student and was willing to utilize her vacation time to assist me in training and lab work during this trip.  Finally, Western University of Health Sciences continues to support my time in these endeavors, for which I am very grateful. May 24 – 26, 2017: DJY Part of the impetus behind this trip came from DJY staff in wanting to conduct hormone monitoring studies of giant pandas in the wild, but in full recognition that there are limitations to such studies.  One such limitation is the degradation of hormones in the feces once voided.  Not accounting for these post-voidance alterations [...]

Panda Pillow Talk | What those Chirps and Baas Might Mean

Researchers at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) say they have decoded 13 vocalizations for pandas, including noises expressed during courting. The researchers from CCRCGP, led by Zhang Hemin, the head of the center, have found that male pandas are said to baa like sheep if they are courting a mate, while females chirp if they are interested.  The noises are among a range of barks, roars and squeaks that have been analysed by Chinese doctors who are desperate to boost the numbers of an animal that is one of the most endangered in the world.  "Our researchers were so confused when we began the project that they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep,” said Mr. Zhang.  He goes on to explain, “If we can understand their language, it will help us protect the animal, especially in the wild.” CCRCGP has been working on the panda linguistics project since 2010 when they started making recordings of pandas in the center - both cubs and adults - in various situations: eating, mating, nursing, fighting, etc.  They then began analyzing the voiceprints. Sounds expressed by panda cubs, they found, were basic and include ‘gee-gee’ (‘I’m hungry’), ‘wow-wow’ (not happy) and 'coo-coo' (nice).  Panda mothers have a variety of calls.  "If a panda mother keeps tweeting like a bird, she may be anxious about her babies.  She barks loudly when a stranger comes near." While the findings of the research were met with skepticism by some on China’s social media websites, the researchers are confident in their work.  “How is this panda’s consciously expressing their affections for each other,” one said. “This is basically just the sound of mating.” The center aims to set up a “panda translator” that would use voice-recognition technology”, the news agency added, without providing details.     Originally reported from Xinhua News Agency.

Panda Census 2013 | Wild Panda Population Increases to 1,864

The results of the fourth National Panda Census conducted by China's State Forestry Administration have just been released.  According to the Administration, as of the end of 2013, the wild panda population has reached 1,864 - an increase of 16.8% over the 2003 census numbers.  Wild panda habitat was measured at 2.58 million hectares, an 11.8% increase. China began surveying its giant panda populations in the 1970s. The latest census began in 2011 and took a painstaking three years to complete.  The survey showed that nearly three quarters of the wild pandas live in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The remaining pandas were found in the neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. The increase in the population can be attributed largely to conservation efforts put in place by the Chinese government to protect the bear and its habitat.  The administration said China has set up 27 new preservation areas for giant pandas, contributing to the growth in their numbers.  Economic development still remains a threat to the rare animal and its habitat, however. The survey has found 319 hydropower stations and 1,339 kilometers (832 miles) of roads in the giant panda's habitat. In addition to wild pandas, the number of giant pandas in captivity grew by 211, more than double the previous survey figure.  Together, wild and captive, there are now just over 2,200 pandas in the world.

The Panda who Faked her Pregnancy…or Did She?

Giant Panda’s Faking Pregnancy Recently, I read an article, I can’t remember where it was, but I do remember the articles message. It said that a specific female panda was intentionally faking pregnancy, in order to get more food from her caregivers. This story was very cute, and heartwarming, and it did go viral because everybody was able to get a good laugh, but it’s important to really understand an animal’s behaviors in order to understand them. By taking the time to dig deep into an animal, like this Giant Panda’s actions, we can truly comprehend the bio-behavioral norms of the species. What many onlookers found adorable, was actually a phenomenon common in Giant Pandas, or Ailuropoda melanoleuca, called pseudopregnancy. It’s symptoms are entertaining, but truthfully it makes the Giant Pandas species survival that much more difficult. Pseudopregnancy is when a female has the same symptoms of being pregnant, and can stump researchers. Ultrasounds are unable to detect the presence of a fetus until much further along, and the fake pregnancy symptoms make it extremely difficult for that particular female to have reproductive success because their window is 1-3 days long. All in all, what many brushed off as a panda faking pregnancy, was most likely a female experiencing pseudopregnancy, or unfortunately the female could’ve been pregnant, but pregnancy loss is also extremely high in Giant Pandas and can overall go undetected. ***All Information can be found in research articles compiled in the text “Giant Pandas: Biology and Conservation” which was Edited by Donald Lindburg and Karen Baragona

Giant Panda Xue Xue Begins Her Life in the Wild

Giant panda Xue Xue, who was born on  August 15, 2012, was released into the wild at the Liziping Natural Reserve in Shimian, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Tusday Oct. 14, 2014. She became the fourth giant panda to be bred in captivity and released into the wild in China. Like Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang before her (the two pandas released under the current reintroduction protocol), Xue Xue spent two years' training in habitat selection, foraging, and avoiding natural enemies.  Under her mothers guidance, and without human intervention, Xue Xue learned to search for food and water, nest, and avoid predators.  Young pandas in the program are rigorously monitored (via live cameras) to ensure that they are "passing" all of the target requirements. In the past, caretakers wore special panda suits smeared with panda urine and feces when contact was necessary.  Closer to release date, however, to make her wary of poachers, they stopped wearing the suits when giving her injections, transporting her long distances, or other unpleasant activities. It is only those pandas that "pass" all of the testing parameters that are deemed fit for reintroduction.  In Xue Xue's case, not only did she meet and exceed all testing parameters, but she had also fully separated from her mother (which generally happens around the age of 2), showing that she was comfortably independent.  Xue Xue and her mother, Si Xue,  had no contact with each other for several months before she was transferred to Liziping. Both before and after transport, Xue Xue was given full physical examinations to ensure that she was as physically ready for reintroduction as she was behaviorally.  She was placed in a holding area prior to her release for final observation.   On the day of her release, Xue Xue showed some reluctance to leave her transport container initially, a behavior which showed that she has learned to be observant and cautious of changes in her environment.  Her mother taught her well.   Xue Xue's release marks another milestone for the reintroduction program.  As Zhang Hemin, director of the China Conservation and Research Center for [...]

Please Help us Welcome David Kersey, PhD to the PI Advisory Board

David Kersey, Ph.D., began his career in wildlife conservation in 2000 working as an endocrine technician at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). In 2008 he earned his Ph.D. in Environmental Science from George Mason University. For his dissertation, he conducted research at SCBI in collaboration with Chinese colleagues to study the reproductive and adrenal biology of the male and female giant panda. During this time, Dr. Kersey refined pervious ideas of reproductive physiology and worked towards improving breeding and management of the species in captivity. He has authored and coauthored a number of research articles that address different aspects of endocrinology and reproduction in the giant panda. Among his many accomplishments is a refinement of when natural breeding and/or artificial insemination should be done based on urinary hormone levels. Most notably, Dr. Kersey trained Chinese colleagues at some the major breeding facilities in China in the hormone monitoring techniques he helped refine and develop, and set up a hormone lab at the Chengdu Research Base of Panda Breeding, which has since seen an increase in the number of cubs produced due to improved timing of breeding and insemination. Additionally, his expertise is sought in the US and abroad in consultation with giant panda breeding. Currently, Dr. Kersey is an Assistant Professor of Physiology at Western University of Health Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, where he is Course Leader of Veterinary Basic Sciences, and member of the physiology content expert team. Dr. Kersey continues to work with colleagues in the US and China on giant panda reproduction in an effort to improve conservation efforts for the species.

From Duke University | An Update on F.I.T. (footprint identification technique)

Sizzling Bamboo Shoots and Footprints: Tracking the Giant Panda… by Zoe Jewell and Sky Alibhai, visiting research scientists — May 28th, 2014 This article was originally published at:  ________________________________________________________________ Guest bloggers Zoe Jewell and Sky Alibhai are visiting research scientists at the Nicholas School of the Environment and at the JMP division of the SAS Institute in Cary, NC. They founded WildTrack ( in response to interest in the research community for cost-effective, non-invasive and sustainable methods of wildlife monitoring. We huddled together at dawn on the bitingly cold and slippery slopes of the eastern Himalayas with our Duke PhD student Binbin Li, on the trail of the Giant panda. Wearing slightly whimsical standard-issue Chinese government panda costumes, we gazed intently at a pile of steaming panda poop. It wasn’t so much the warmth that beckoned, but the slightly sizzling bamboo fragments laid out in front of us. Pandas feed almost exclusively on bamboo, and their feces reflect this.  Until recently, Chinese scientists would attempt to identify individual Giant pandas by the ‘bite size’ of the bamboo fragments in their feces.

Another Tao Tao Update

We have just been sent images of Tao Tao from the wild.  Tao Tao was released into the wild on October 11, 2012.  Those tracking his movements and checking in on him report that he is fully acclimated to his environment and continues to do exceptionally well. We've also been told that Zhang Xiang, released last year, is also doing well and adapting nicely to her new wild life.  CCRCGP has plans to reintroduce another two pandas to the wild this fall. You can learn more about the Reintroduction Program HERE

Foster Moms at BFX

One of our first stops on our initial tour of the Bifengxia Panda Base in November was the New Breeding Center.  Visiting this area of the base was a distinct highlight since we were able to see the moms with their cubs .  I think we can all agree that there is always something very touching about seeing a mom (of any species) caring for her baby.  That maternal bond is so special.  As we toured the New Breeding Center, we were fortunate to see five moms with cubs (one with TWO cubs, but I'm jumping ahead).  What we didn't realize during that first walk through, however, was that what we were seeing was even more special than we first thought! The New Breeding Center is an area of the Panda Base set apart from the other areas with the primary purpose of breeding pandas and rearing cubs.  Breeding at BFX is strategically planned to ensure that the gene pool of the giant panda remains diversified and strong.  There are a number of pandas at the breeding center currently, five of which are rearing cubs.  While Na Na and Ge Ge (above with cub) were happily caring for their cubs (each gave birth to a single cub this year), we would soon find out that something more was happening with the other three moms. Chet's Discovery On our second day at Bifengxia, we met up with Chet Chin, one of PI's adoptors, supporters, and a long time friend.  Chet had arrived early for the Hug My Baby event so that she could share some extra time with her adopted panda, Feng Yi, and her 2013 cub (who Chet has also adopted).  After spending a good portion of the day photographing Feng Yi and "her" cub, Chet was quite shocked to learn from one of the senior staff that the cub with Feng Yi was, in fact, not hers!    Thanks to Chet's diligent follow-up with keepers and staff, we were able to sort through the confusion and get to the root of not only a beautiful story, but also a new [...]