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First ever footage of giant pandas mating in the wild reveals the animal's violet courtship ritual


For the first time, filmmakers have captured footage of giant pandas mating in the wild.

A crew shooting an episode of the PBS series Nature spent three years tracking the gentle giants in China’s Qinling Mountains to witness the rare courtship. 

Two males are shown in an aggressive standoff in a clip from ‘Pandas: Born to be Wild,’ but the female is not interested in either and walks away.

It’s believed the males’ hostile routine helps trigger ovulation in females, explaining why natural mating is so rare in zoos. 

A week later, the female relents and was spotted copulating with one of the challengers. 

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Filmmakers for the PBS series Nature captured what is believed to be the first courtship ritual and mating of giant pandas in the wild.

Filmmakers for the PBS series Nature captured what is believed to be the first courtship ritual and mating of giant pandas in the wild.  

Working with scientists and park rangers, the Nature crew was able to capture the first recorded standoff between two males, in an episode that aired on PBS Wednesday.

Up in a bamboo tree, a female watches to determine which will win her favor.

Female pandas are only fertile for a few days, so competition between males is intense.

‘Nothing like this has ever been seen before,’ the narrator announces.

As the two males thrash around on the ground, a female watches from a tree. Pandas are only fertile for a few days, so competition between males is intense

As the two males thrash around on the ground, a female watches from a tree. Pandas are only fertile for a few days, so competition between males is intense

A week later the camera finds the female again, this time mating with the younger challenger. 'He sniffs, licks the ground, and drools. She's come into estrus and is finally ready,' the narrator announces

A week later the camera finds the female again, this time mating with the younger challenger. ‘He sniffs, licks the ground, and drools. She’s come into estrus and is finally ready,’ the narrator announces

One male emerges victor, but the female is not in the mood just yet and he backs away.

Both suitors follow her, waiting for her to enter heat.

Their competition is long and surprisingly aggressive, with fights, fierce roars and scent markings. 

And at times, the males even hold the female ‘hostage.’ 

It’s not until a week later that the camera finds the female again, this time alone with the younger challenger.

Pandas are typically solitary creatures, sticking to one area. But during their mating season, between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, they'll travel for miles a day in search of a mate

Pandas are typically solitary creatures, sticking to one area. But during their mating season, between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, they’ll travel for miles a day in search of a mate

‘Youth has won out,’ says the narrator. ‘He sniffs, licks the ground, and drools. She’s come into estrus and is finally ready. Then, in what they may imagine is a discreet corner, they mate.’

Pandas are typically solitary creatures, sticking to one area. But during their mating season, between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, they’ll travel for miles a day in search of a mate.

They also get surprisingly vocal when it’s time to partner up.

‘Their calls would echo the whole mountain,’ filmmaker Jacky Poon told PBS. ‘This is one of the main ways we track pandas in the wild, by following their calls.’

Earlier this year a pair of pandas at a zoo in Hong Kong successfully mated for the first time.

In April, Le Le and Ying Ying, residents of Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Zoo ‘succeeded in natural mating’ for the first time ever,’ the zoo said in a statement.

Due to the pandemic, Ocean Park had been closed to the public since late January.

Le Le and Ying Ying arrived at the park in 2007 and had not mated since attempts were made to unite the pair in 2010.

In April, Le Le and Ying Ying, residents of Hong Kong's Ocean Park Zoo 'succeeded in natural mating' for the first time ever,' the zoo said in a statement.

In April, Le Le and Ying Ying, residents of Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Zoo ‘succeeded in natural mating’ for the first time ever,’ the zoo said in a statement. 

Earlier attempts by zookeepers to bring about natural mating had been fruitless.

‘Since Ying Ying and Le Le’s arrival in Hong Kong in 2007, and attempts at natural mating since 2010, they unfortunately have yet to succeed until this year,’ said Michael Boos, executive director of zoological operation and conservation.

In late March, zoo staff noticed Ying Ying, the female, began spending more time playing in the water, while Le Le started leaving scent-markings around his habitat and searching the area for Ying Ying’s scent.

‘The successful natural mating process today is extremely exciting for all of us, as the chance of pregnancy via natural mating is higher than by artificial insemination,’ said Boos.

The zoo is now closely monitoring Ying Ying’s body and behavioral changes to see if she could be pregnant.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT GIANT PANDAS?

While its numbers are slowly increasing, the giant panda remains one of the rarest and most endangered bears in the world.

An estimated 1,864 giant pandas are living in the wild and 548 in zoos and breeding centres around the world.

Experts are unclear what age giant pandas can reach in the wild, but the oldest panda reared in captivity so far was 38 years old.

A wild panda’s diet is 99 per cent bamboo, with the remaining one per cent made up of small rodents.

Four-month-old baby giant panda Xiang Xiang is pictured getting a physical examination at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo on October 10, 2017

Four-month-old baby giant panda Xiang Xiang is pictured getting a physical examination at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo on October 10, 2017

Giant Pandas need to consume around 20 to 40 pounds (10 to 20 kilograms) of bamboo each day to get the nutrients they need. 

They are around three to four feet tall when standing on all four legs.

Cubs do not open their eyes until they are six to eight weeks of age and are not able to move independently until three months old.

A newborn panda is about the size of a stick of butter, or about 1/900th the size of its mother. 

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