Pandas doomed? Study finds bamboo digestion may affect their sex lives

© Sergio Perez
The troubled sex life of Pandas may stem from upset stomachs rather than laziness, scientists have found. Ironically, it is their ability to digest bamboo that makes them sick and moody. If no solution is found, zoo pandas may eventually go extinct.

“Gastrointestinal diseases are a major cause of mortality in wild and captive pandas but scientists understand very little about their digestive process,” said chemist Ashli Brown Johnson, an associate professor at Mississippi State University and co-author of the study on panda poop and feeding behavior.

The researchers think that the poor pandas are hit worst during their summer-time breeding season, which totally kills their romantic mood.

After analyzing feeding behavior of Le Le (male) and Ya Ya (female) from the Memphis Zoo over 10 years and looking into the feces of the two giant pandas, researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Mississippi State University realized that the problem with the pandas’ sex drive may lie in their diet of bamboo. Pandas can eat up to a third of their body weight in bamboo daily.

It appeared that Le Le and Ya Ya tend to eat different parts of the bamboo, depending on a season. In winter and spring they chew on the woody stalks, but in summer they crave the leaves. This alternation causes a problem, because the transition in their diet makes them sick right at the critical time when they ought to be breeding.

In July and August pandas’ stomachs pass more waste, making them lose their appetite, become sluggish, and experience discomfort and pain.

Those pellets look like thick, gooey, gelatinous masses, which are called mucoids, whereas a healthy panda’s poop resembles shredded bamboo.

The team has also found that Le Le and Ya Ya do not have the right bacterial balance in their stomachs, just like people who suffer from dysfunctional digestion.

Unfortunately, the study does not offer any solutions to help the pandas’ gastrointestinal distress – or their sex lives.