Jennifer Keating, a Research Technician with the San Diego Zoo’s Institution of Conservation Research, deals with bio-acoustics which is the investigation of animal sound and sound perception. Her most recent project is a behavioral audiometric study that is going to make huge strides for the conservation of giant pandas.
Researchers are testing to learn the actual range of the panda’s hearing. Pandas are very sensitive to noises so it is important to know the lowest and highest sounds that they can hear. By determining their sound spectrum, researchers can investigate what kinds of sounds affect the giant pandas the most as well as what sounds are bothersome and could potentially drive them out of their habitat. “The goal of this,” says Keating, “is to make sound laws that protect the pandas.” These endangered bears live in the most populated country in the world, which means that there is a lot of noise being made by people. Noise pollution is a huge problem for the people in China as well as the giant pandas. If the noise causes the bears stress, it could be disastrous to their health.
“Pandas eat, poop, and sleep,” explains Keating “and they don’t really do much else.” If a panda is agitated by a noise they could refuse to eat and pace due to the stress which would cause the bear to lose weight. Pandas already get very little nutrition from the bamboo they eat and can loose weight very quickly. Because of this it is very important that pandas maintain their diet of 30-50 pounds of bamboo a day and keep their physical exertion (such as pacing) to a minimum.
The stress of agitating noises can also inhibit panda reproduction. Female giant pandas exhibit an evolutionary adaptation known as delayed implantation where an embryo does not implant immediately following fertilization. Instead, the embryo remains in a state of suspended growth that allows for the birth to occur under the most favorable of conditions. If a pregnant female is bothered by the noisiness of her surroundings, the embryo won’t implant because she feels the environmental factors aren’t good. If there are no baby pandas being born, conservation efforts for this endangered species are in trouble!
Determining what pandas can and cannot hear will help China to make sound laws that protect pandas from noise pollution. Pandas are already endangered due to habitat loss and understanding what these bears can hear is important to improving their habitat, quality of living and conservation efforts. A happy panda is healthy panda!
Kaitlyn, Conservation Team