|Sabotaged by Soy? No Panda Progeny
Is she or isn’t she? That’s one of the most frequently asked questions at zoos around the world.
Pregnancies of pandas in captivity are rare, and live births, even rarer. Of the few pandas born alive,
only 40 percent survive the first month, and only a third make it into adulthood.
The challenge is great. Even in the wild, pandas are solitary creatures that can be finicky about finding
a mate with the perfect smell. With the giant panda nearly extinct, zoo officials have tried everything
imaginable to encourage the pandas to mate, including behavioral therapy to improve social skills and
marriage counselors to improve relationships. At the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research
Base in China, encouragement even includes showing X-rated “how to” videos of humping pandas.
At the Edinburgh Zoo, zookeepers, including the aptly named Iain Valentine, recently built a private
love nest and love tunnel in the hope that the giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang, also known as
Sweetie and Sunshine, might get together this spring. Female pandas are only fertile two or three
days per year so when Tian Tian showed signs of ovulating last week, hopes ran high. To improve the
prospects, zoo keepers turned off the webcam to give the couple some privacy though clearly Mr.
Valentine or someone else has been watching. Things looked hopeful for a bit when the pandas got
together without fighting and did a little playful wrestling. Alas, Tian Tian's hormones dropped before
they mated. And her premature drop in hormones meant the zoo couldn't try with artificial
Clearly, many issues come into play. Yet why is it that zookeepers seem to have considered just
about everything except diet? In the wild, pandas eat mostly bamboo, choosing from a variety of
different species. Most pandas eat more than 30 kg per day, but also eat eggs, grasses, meat and
vegetables if available. What Tian Tian and Yang Guang eat at the Edinburgh Zoo is also mostly
bamboo, but primarily one type. And to provide what’s considered a “balanced diet,” zookeepers
supplement with special panda cakes made from soy, corn, rice, egg and oil.
Similarly, at Washington DC's National Zoo, panda diets are supplemented with apple slices and soy
Yes, soy, despite the fact that it is completely unnatural for pandas. Soy isoflavones have caused
infertility, miscarriages, birth defects, decreased libido anxiety, social isolation, aggression and other
behavioral disorders in all animal species tested. Making matters worse, both the soy and corn might
be GMO, increasing reproductive risks even further. Oils, most likely refined, deodorized and rancid
vegetable oils, have also been linked to fertility problems. Other than egg, all of the ingredients in
these special panda cakes are completely unnatural for pandas. As for the egg, it almost certainly is
powdered egg with oxidized cholesterol. No wonder pandas are having problems reproducing in
What's more, anecdotal evidence indicates that soy can even alter one’s scent—and not for the
better. Given the fact that pandas are exceptionally sensitive to scent, the only conclusion is, poor
Reprinted here by permission of author. Originally published as “Sex and the Panda” by Psychology
Today at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/naughty-nutrition/201204/sex-and-the-panda
Last Updated 5/3/2012