Giant pandas are the poster animals for many conservation efforts that no one wants to see disappear from our planet but it seems that while the pandas are fighting extinction on one side, humans are making it harder for them to survive on the other.
It doesn't take much to see the effects of humans in the natural world. We are all more than aware that deforestation, landfills and poaching are key in the extinction of many of our great animals, but now increased human pressures are piling up on the natural environment through growing levels of noise-pollution. It was perhaps an issue that was inevitable, with more land being set aside for development, the human population has been moving closer and closer to the habitats of wild animals, to nature reserves and to zoos for years. But researchers have now noticed a devastating effect on the mating rituals of the giant pandas as a result of these increased levels of man-made noise pollution.
With the pandas already being notorious for their often unsuccessful ability to reproduce both in the wild and in captivity, it now seems they are being further compromised by their noisy neighbours and this is resulting in an alarming issue not just for the pandas themselves but for the conservationists who are trying to pull them back from the brink of extinction. The giant pandas mating ritual relies heavily on their ability to vocally communicate with one another. The females lack an ovulation pattern and so when they do become fertile it is vital for them to use a series of calls to inform the males of their sudden fertility. With ultrasonic hearing the pandas are able to detect a far wider range of sounds than other bear species and can hear in frequencies higher than 20 kilohertz. However, with the surrounding sounds of city life getting both louder and closer to the habitats of the pandas, the bears calls are starting to be drowned out and the males are missing the small window of mating opportunity that they do have.
Researchers at San Diego zoo have set about finding a way around the issue and after measuring the hearing in three female and two male pandas in a soundproof chamber, researchers were able to analyse the level of noise disruption from the surrounding areas. Their findings meant that they were then able to advise on which activities should be avoided in the areas surrounding the environments of the pandas. While the research may not have led to a ground-breaking result, the findings have given researchers a solid understanding in the types of noises that are affecting the reproduction rates of the giant pandas and this is now allowing them to move forward in helping sustain their numbers.
Of course, setting up a research project such as this one isn't something everyone can do but one thing that you definitely can get involved with is Frontier's panda breeding program. Just follow the link to find out more about how you can become a volunteer and make that all important step forward to help secure the future of the giant pandas.
By Shannon Clark - Online Journalism Intern
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