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Zoo Biol. 2010 Jul-Aug;29(4):470-83. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20280.

Seasonal shifts in giant panda feeding behavior: relationships to bamboo plant part consumption.

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Conservation and Research Department, Memphis Zoological Society, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.


The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is classified as a carnivore, yet subsists on a diet comprised almost exclusively of bamboo. Wild and captive giant pandas use highly selective foraging behaviors for processing and consuming bamboo. These behaviors are for the first time quantified in captive giant pandas over a 5-year period of time showing highly specific seasonal trends. Giant panda feeding behavior was recorded using live video observations of two giant pandas housed at the Memphis Zoo from November 2003 to June 2008. Leaf was the primary plant part consumed from June to December, whereas culm was consumed primarily from February to May, with both bears displaying similar seasonal shifts in plant part consumption. From May to June, leaf consumption increased significantly (P-values<0.001); from June to August, leaf consumption remained high and stable. From December to March, leaf consumption decreased significantly (P-values<0.001). Specific behaviors for bamboo leaf and culm consumption were also observed. Both bears formed wads of leaves before ingestion while feeding on leaf, but the male employed this feeding behavior more often than the female (54 and 33%, respectively). Both bears used similar culm-stripping behavior (26 and 25%), used to remove the outer layer and isolate the pith for consumption. This study indicates that unique seasonal foraging behaviors observed in wild pandas are also apparent in captive animals in relation to plant part selectivity and feeding behaviors.

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