having sex over 40 times in a single afternoon -- 8/14/19

Today's selection -- from The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke. The sex habits of pandas:

"[Repeated failures to get pandas to reproduce in captivity has] added to the perception that pan­das are simply not built to procreate or parent, and have somehow been denied the fundamental instincts required for survival. The calls to take human control of the situation and find some way to force pandas to reproduce in captivity became increasingly urgent.

"Breeding wild animals in captivity is rarely easy. And it takes just a little common sense to see why: a concrete enclosure is not a sexy place for a wild animal. Their desire to procreate has to be stimulated by a range of behavioral and environmental cues -- the animal equiv­alent of a nice glass of wine and a bit of Barry White. Often zoos have no idea what is required to get their animals in the mood. The white rhino, for example, was proving impossible to breed in captivity, because zookeepers were simply bringing a male and female in a pen together and hoping for the best. This didn't take into account that rhinos are herd animals, and for a male to get the horn, as it were, he has to flirt with several females before choosing the lucky lady. In giant pandas, it is the reverse -- the female is the picky one.

"In the 1980s, George Schaller was the first person to discover that these notoriously solitary creatures are not loners when it comes to sex. Crawling through bamboo thickets in the fog and snow, he observed complex mating rituals in which lone females climbed trees and moaned like Chewbacca as several males fought for her attention be­low. The winning male would take advantage of his prize by having sex over forty times in a single afternoon. The semen of the giant panda is also said to contain 'prodigious amounts of high quality sper­matozoa,' ten to a hundred times more than a human male. There is no denying that these are virile animals.

"Panda sex itself is a rough-and-tumble affair with plenty of bit­ing and barking. The male probably learns the right amount of submissive-dominant behavior from playing with his mother and ob­serving her in the act; baby pandas stay under their mother's care for up to three years. This gives them the opportunity to witness at least one breeding season and learn the ins and outs of the female panda's preferred Kama Sutra.

"Pandas occupy sizeable home territories of around 2.5 to 4 square miles, and they sniff out sex parties by leaving scented status updates advertising their identity, sex, age and fertility on specially designated trees -- the panda equivalent of Tinder. When a female comes into sea­son, she arouses male interest by rubbing her anal glands at the base of one of these communal message boards. Her smelly signal attracts males from far and wide, who then compete for her affections in a sort of urinary Olympics. Female pandas prefer males that can leave their sexy scent marks the highest up a tree. Scientists have described males adopting a selection of athletic poses -- 'squat,' 'legcock' and, most remarkably, 'handstand' -- in order to squirt their pee as high as possi­ble. Males are also thought to use their own bodies as sexy-scented ad­vertising boards by dabbing urine on their ears, like aftershave, which act as a pair of fluffy beacons broadcasting the bear's availability on the mountain breeze.

"Bears are famous for their highly developed sense of smell, so the fe­male's short fertility window is no impediment to reproduction in the wild. Indeed, it could even be an evolutionary adaptation to control population size, precisely because male pandas are so accomplished at procreating, which helps ensure the birth rate never exceeds what the bamboo forests can support. A wild female will give birth to a cub on average every three to five years, which is not an unusual reproductive rate. If they reproduced any more quickly. they would quickly out­grow their habitat."

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Lucy Cooke


The Truth About Animals 


Basic Books


Copyright 2018 by Lucy Cooke


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