Feng Yi and the “PP” word

Just my two sen after it was mentioned here.

Feng Yi is coming out of a phase that initially had her Malaysian keepers baffled, but thanks to Mr Yang Haidi, the keeper from Dujiangyan who accompanied her and Fu Wa here, they have learned something that would normally only be experienced maybe a year or two into a 10-year giant panda loan. This is actually the second time the keepers have had this privilege; the first was when Feng Yi went into estrus just a few days after arriving in late May. She has now followed through with a pseudo pregnancy.

I have also learned a lot from Mr Yang about this thing called pseudo pregnancy. Before this, my (mis)understanding came from the various articles I’ve read. I used to think pseudo pregnancies were usually unsuccessful pregnancies resulting from either natural matings or artificial inseminations … or was it from unsuccessful matings? This I’m quite sure of: the female would show signs of pregnancy, even build nests in anticipation of the coming birth, but in the end, there was no pregnancy. From what I read, I also understood that pseudo pregnancies only happened to females who have given birth a few times before.

Although Feng Yi experienced estrus this year, peaking during her first week in Malaysia, and the vets tried to get her to mate with Fu Wa, it was not successful. So when she showed signs of not being her usual self early this month, the Malaysian team was not sure what to make of it. Some of them asked me if I’d seen her this way back in China, and I said no. One of them even asked if maybe she mated before coming to Malaysia. That was unlikely; both of them were placed in quarantine in late February, before the start of the breeding season, and were in seclusion up to the first week after their arrival when they were put together in an attempt to mate them.

What were the signs of Feng Yi not being her usual self? She went off her usual diet of bamboo stems, wowotou, carrots and apples and switched to a preference for bamboo leaves. She also slept a lot, which changed the usual daily afternoon cleaning routine for her yard. The keepers, unable to wake her and get her to go indoors, took to leaving the den door open for her to go in and out as she pleased, and to going out to clean a little and leave fresh food for her while she slept nearby. There were also days when she was hardly outside and it was left to Fu Wa to “wow” the visitors.

Around this time a year ago, Feng Yi was really pregnant and getting ready to give birth. As it got nearer to my departure to Bifengxia for Gong Gong’s birthday, I actually thought maybe her body was remembering that time and thus behaving in a similar way even though she was not pregnant.

My first day back in the panda exhibit hall after my trip, I was pleased to see Feng Yi in her yard, albeit sleeping. I later saw her eating and walking around, signs that she was getting back to her normal self.

Meanwhile, over in Edinburgh Zoo, the panda team there is certain their female panda, Tian Tian, is pregnant. And I read this in an update about her from the Zoo’s website:

“Monitoring a female giant pandas behaviour – for example if she is sleeping a lot, eating more or spending time in her cubbing den – is not an indicator of if she is pregnant or otherwise, as giant pandas experience pseudo pregnancies and she will show ‘pregnant’ type behaviour whether she is pregnant or not.”

Since Feng Yi was sleeping a lot but did not mate this year, the likelihood is that she has been experiencing a pseudo pregnancy. From what I’ve seen as recent as yesterday, she may still be going through it; in particular, she is still sleeping quite a lot, so much so that Mr Yang had to do a quick check-up out in the yard yesterday morning. She was sleeping and he was able to go near and check her nipples, but when he was lightly probing her nether region with a bamboo stick, she stirred; I’ve never seen him move so quickly out of her way. He later told me that her nether region is back to normal but she is still lactating. I then told him that last year, she was chosen to foster a second cub because of her ample milk supply.

Mr Yang has proved to be a wealth of information. When I mentioned pseudo pregnancy is only experienced by females who have given birth a few times, he said even females who have never given birth, but have experienced estrus, can have pseudo pregnancies. As for Feng Yi’s current state, even though I’ve seen her eating her carrots and apples and some bamboo stems, he said she’s still not back to 100% normal. He also noted that while it has gone on longer than usual, the longest he’s personally seen was more than a month long. In her case, with careful management of her diet, it should be over soon.