A real-life soap opera appears to have played out at a panda research center in China where zookeepers claim a panda may have faked her pregnancy in order to live a more pampered life.
Zookeepers at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding say Ai Hin, a 6-year-old giant panda, first showed signs of pregnancy in July, but then returned to normal at the end of this month, after just a two-month observation.
Chengdu officials say “phantom pregnancies” -– caused by progestational hormone changes –- are not uncommon for pandas, but that some “clever” pandas keep playing the pregnancy card long after.
“After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life," panda expert Wu Kongju told state news agency Xinhua.
The false pregnancy caused the Chengdu Base to call off its planned live broadcast of Ai Hin giving birth.
The director of animal programs at the Memphis Zoo says that zookeepers must prepare pandas for birth at the first sign of pregnancy, even if it is hard to tell if they are actually pregnant.
“Pandas and other bears don't make it real easy to tell whether or not they are pregnant,” Matt Thompson told ABC News. “But we treat her as though she's pregnant whether she's pseudo pregnant or actually pregnant .”
“We just want to be ready in either case,” he said.