Pandas can suffer from jetlag just like people, if they are in zoos further north than where they normally live.
Giant pandas are less active in the winter months, between December and March, if their zoos are outside their normal geographic area, according to a study.
They also show higher levels of abnormal behavior, such as pacing.
The researchers now want to investigate whether pandas suffer from a form of “seasonal affective disorder”, which could negatively affect their mood and motivation levels, as it does in people.
This could be due to the long, dark winter days that they would not experience in the wild in China.
Pandas may suffer from ‘jetlag’ if they are in zoos further north than where they normally live, study suggests
They say zookeepers could use light and temperature to make zoos more like the pandas’ natural environment.
This would prevent the imbalance of their biological clocks with the environment in which they find themselves.
This is a form of jet lag similar to what tourists experience when traveling to another time zone.
Pandas are extremely popular in the UK, thanks to the pair from China who have been on loan to Edinburgh Zoo for almost 12 years.
The researchers have not confirmed whether they observed Scottish pandas, but they compared the behaviors of giant pandas in three zoos outside their normal geographic latitude and two zoos within their latitude for the study.
The pandas’ sexual behavior, such as marking objects with scent to attract a mate or rubbing their private parts, was no different depending on whether their zoo was further north than where they typically live.
But the results provide a tantalizing clue about how to get pandas, which are notoriously bad at reproducing and therefore endangered, to mate with each other.
The study authors found that abnormal behaviors, such as pacing, are more common in the spring, when pandas typically travel long distances in search of a mate.
This up and down pacing also tends to increase when pandas are not displaying sexual behaviors.
Therefore, abnormal behaviors such as pacing displayed by zoo pandas could be a sign of sexual frustration, the authors suggest, and a clue as to when male and female pandas will be more willing to love.
Zookeepers could use this information to pair males and females together at various times of the year, so that they become more accustomed to each other’s scents and are more willing to eventually mate during the narrow one- to three-day period when a Female panda ovulates and can get pregnant every year.
Researchers now want to investigate whether pandas suffer from a form of “seasonal affective disorder” that affects their mood and motivation.
However, more research is needed, as the abnormal behavior could also be the frustration felt at not being able to migrate to find bamboo.
Kristine Gandia, who led the study from the University of Stirling, said: “When their internal biological clocks are out of sync with external signals such as light and temperature, animals experience adverse effects.
“In humans, a lack of natural light can cause seasonal affective disorders, so we would like to know if something similar happens with pandas.”
The study used images from zoo webcams to monitor giant pandas during the day and night for a year.
They found that pandas were less active and walked less in zoos outside their normal geographic range during the winter, which appears to be related to these zoos having up to 10 hours less daylight on average and being colder and warmer. more fluctuating.
This may be related to some type of panda seasonal affective disorder, or simply because the pandas’ internal biological clocks do not correctly recognize that it is a time of year when they are normally most active in preparation for reproduction and migration to find bamboo.
The researchers did not find a link between sexual behavior and where the pandas lived, but that may be because only 11 pandas were studied.
But changes in activity seen in northern zoos, leading up to the pandas’ breeding season, could potentially affect the chances of successful breeding, so researchers say zookeepers could try to maintain light levels. and temperature similar to those in the pandas’ natural environment.
Researchers now suspect that abnormal activity in zoo pandas, such as the behavior of standing on their hind legs in the morning, could be because they know that is when a zookeeper is about to feed them.
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.