Many of the world’s wild animals use mating calls to announce their readiness to mate and to find other specimens to hook up with, but curious researchers wanted to learn more about the mating call process in giant pandas, and so they conducted a study to do just that.
Their results, which were published last month in the journal Scientific Reports, indicate that giant pandas have a challenging time getting their bleats to penetrate through the dense bamboo forests they reside in. As it would seem, bamboo forests aren’t exactly what one might call an acoustic-friendly zone.
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The researchers found that giant pandas can identify one another via their bleats from up to 20 meters away. Regarding mating, however, giant pandas can only discern whether the other caller is a male or female when the bleat is no more than 10 meters away.
Comparatively, the mating calls of an African Elephant can span anywhere from 400 to 1,000 meters, the mating call of a Bornean Orangutan can span up to 300 meters, and the mating call of a koala can span up to 50 meters. The mating calls of these animals aren’t hindered by sound wave-inhibiting bamboo forests, however.
"Our findings indicate that most acoustic communication does indeed take place over very short distances (10-20 m) once mates have been located," explained study lead author Benjamin Charlton.
“If you’re walking into a crowded room and someone calls out your name, there’s a certain point where you can identify who that is, or maybe you can identify that it’s a male or female that is calling your name,” added Megan Owen, a co-author of the study. “There’s information that’s encoded in that call, but that information degrades over distance.”
As you can probably imagine, the circumstances tend to be a bit of an issue for giant pandas. Extreme land development projects in China have fragmented the animals’ natural habitat in such a way that these mating calls need to span far distances to be effective. That said, giant pandas may not be mating as often as they could be because their calls aren’t reaching other individuals.
The IUCN dropped the giant panda from the endangered species list in 2016 after observing what appeared to be a rebound in population numbers. But as the latest study’s findings indicate, habitat fragmentation will only worsen and could make mating attempts even more challenging for giant pandas as bleats are unable to reach potential mates.
It should be interesting to see how conservationists will handle the habitat fragmentation problem and whether the mating call research will facilitate any progress.