Panda reproduction and panda cubs
The mating season of the giant panda is an annual event: generally between March and May. When the female is in season, her behaviour changes. She is more vocal and does more scentmarking, thus attracting the male. The male is more active and vocal also. They can actually be heard up to two kilometres away. There is a hierarchy amongst pandas, and the dominant male gets to mate first, after which other males get their turn. Copulation lasts just a few minutes, after which the female panda sends the male on his way.
Pregnancy in pandas in not a fixed time and can be anywhere between 3 and 5½ months. The female will set up a nest in either a cave or tree trunk, where they will give birth. Generally, only one cub is born, although sometimes two or three can occur. However, mum generally just raises the one cub, most likely the larger one.
Whilst raising her cub, the female panda does not mate. She only begins again once her cub has left, when they are about 18 months old. This means of course that the female produces just one cub every two years. This slow reproduction process does little to help the panda population.
Pandas can live for 20 to 25 years. During this time the female may raise eight or nine cubs.
The panda cub
At birth, the cub weighs around 150g, is around 16cm long and is born blind. It is covered in a thin layer of white hair, without its distinctive black markings. The markings begin to emerge a week after birth, which develop into typical panda markings after about four weeks. The cub’s eyes do not open until they are around 7 weeks old and the panda begins walking after 10 weeks. The cub keeps close to its mother for many months and is not weaned fully until it is about 8 months of age. Mum and cub often play together. The cub does not leave its mum until it is around 18 months old.