National Geographic : 1993 Feb
NAPPING IN A TREE, Hu Zi, or Little Tiger, waited for Jiao Jiao's return from foraging during the late spring of 1990. Probably her first cub, Hu Zi was born three years before Xi Wang. Pandas typi cally give birth to only one cub at a time, at least two years apart. With my Beijing University colleague Professor Pan I have spent several years tracking Jiao Jiao and 12 other pandas. Our study area is in the Qin Ling mountains, home to some 230 of the world's remaining pandas. The rest, perhaps 1,000, live in mountains to the southwest. The Qin Ling, reaching to 12,359 feet, form a natural ha ven for pandas, shielding them from cold air that sweeps down from Siberia. From the south east, monsoons provide ample rain and warmth for the growth of bamboo, their primary food. Harsh climate and steep ter rain have limited human settle ment. Though timbering is done here, China's government re cently agreed to establish a new panda reserve, which would limit clear-cutting operations. By observing the behavior of Jiao Jiao, her cubs, and her mates in this natural setting, we made some discoveries: We learned that, like true bears, panda mothers sometimes fast after giving birth. We saw Jiao Jiao stay with Xi Wang continu ously, not feeding or defecating for 25 days. This suggests that zoos might rethink how they feed new panda mothers, so as not to disrupt natural behavior. We found that Jiao Jiao and Hu Zi stayed together two and a half years, about a year longer than most researchers thought was the norm. Jiao Jiao finally chased her son off in March 1992, after she came into heat and mated with Xi Wang's father. Suddenly on his own, Hu Zi, who had once seemed so confi dent under his mother's protec tion, was tentative and unsure of himself. He seemed wary as he moved into new territory neighboring his mother's. There we soon found Hu Zi keeping close to a larger male, for whom the clumsy young panda posed no threat. We called it hero worship. Hu Zi, who had spent years learning from his mother, now passed hours watching and fol lowing the more experienced male, who roamed the forest as if he owned the place. Her son gone, Jiao Jiao would soon give birth again.