[Updated 1:10 p.m. EST] At least that's how panda caretakers at the Chengdu center characterized the ordeal -- a ruse. But new testimony from other panda experts suggest the panda's theatrics weren't so much a ploy as they were as a case of hormonal confusion. [Original story follows]
Of course, the human species isn't above faking it. Men and women fake a variety of things, sexual or otherwise, for a variety of reasons. And it's not unheard of for a young woman to fake a pregnancy to keep her significant other around a bit longer. But rarely, if ever, do humans fake sexual experiences in order to get more food and air conditioning. That's what Ai Hin apparently did, however.
Because panda pregnancy is a such a fickle thing -- and because pandas are both beloved and endangered -- caretakers go extra lengths to ensure pregnant pandas are healthy and comfortable. Seemingly pregnant pandas are moved to private, air-conditioned environs and pampered with extra food.
It was apparently this lavish treatment that Ai Hin didn't want to end -- that inspired her to continue to fake her pregnancy for several weeks before her secret was finally revealed.
"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care," Wu Kongju, an expert at the breeding center, explained to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. "They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life,"
"So some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life," Kongju added. Ai Hin was one of the clever ones; though she might be due for a reading of the fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
[Updated 1:10 p.m. EST] Some experts don't agree that Ai Hin was faking it. Zhang Heming, director of the Giant Panda Protection and Research Center of China, told the Guardian that Ai Hin probably really thought she was pregnant -- confused by a hormonal issue. "This phenomenon occurs in 10 to 20 percent of pandas," he told the paper. "After the mother panda is inseminated, if her health isn't so good, the pregnancy will terminate, but she'll still behave as if she's pregnant." [Original story follows]
The fact that Ai Hin wasn't ever pregnant in the first place is really not much of a surprise. Female pandas are rarely in the mood in first place, so pregnancies are few and far between; they mate for only a few days every two or three years. Only 24 percent of captive females ever give birth. It's their reluctance to reproduce and their declining wild habitat that has put the species' long-term survival in serious doubt.