Variation of Feeding Regimes: Effects on Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) Behavior

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Sandhaus, Estelle Ann
Maple, Terry L.
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Giant pandas in captivity are typically fed discrete amounts of highly concentrated food on a fixed time schedule, in addition to limited amounts of fresh bamboo throughout the day. In response to informal observations that these animals engage in a number of undesirable behaviors just prior to the predictable feeding of concentrated meals, we examined the existing feeding regime at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, Peoples Republic of China. We sought to determine whether undesirable behaviors were occurring more frequently before the delivery of meals than at other times of day and whether modified feeding regimes would result in a more species-appropriate activity budget overall. As predicted, female giant pandas spent significantly more time engaged in door-directed/human-oriented behavior, stereotypic behavior, and non-stereotypic locomotion in the 30-minute periods prior to the feeding of concentrated meals. When placed on a modified feeding schedule in which frequency of bamboo provisioning was increased (total amount was held constant), significant differences were not found between study phases for the above-mentioned behaviors of interest, though a visual trend towards a decline in stereotypic behavior during the experimental phase was noted. Male pandas, when placed on a less predictable feeding schedule, did not exhibit significant behavioral differences in behaviors of interest between experimental phases or observation periods. These findings may be attributable in part to the low power inherent in the small sample size. However, visual trends that may be indicative of feeding anticipatory activity (FAA) were apparent. It appears that giant pandas, like many other animal species cited in the literature, are sensitive to periodic feeding regimes, though it is less clear as to which regime modifications will prove most beneficial.
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