Why don’t pandas have more sex?

It’s true. Male pandas have such teensy winkies that many humans trained in the ways of sexing bears have mistaken boy pandas for girl pandas. Female pandas have a reproductive window so fleeting – just a day or two a year – that even if a male panda were to erect his little soldier, it would be unlikely to see any action. Based on these two observations, many people like to imagine that pandas are sexually inadequate, a species that would surely be extinct were it not for the supportive role played by humans. The truth about pandas and sex

Tian Tian, maybe definitely not

It is now virtually certain that Tian Tian, the female giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo, is no longer pregnant. Following artificial insemination in April, the zoo has been tracking Tian Tian’s hormone levels. The one to watch is progesterone. At around the time of ovulation, there is a small rise, with levels remaining roughly constant for several months. At this stage, the embryo is fertilized but is not developing. Then, some 60 to 100 days later, progesterone levels jump again from around 250 ng to 2500 ng (per gram of faeces) and the embryo begins to divide. In a press

A black and white Christmas

“The pandas are coming!” announced Edinburgh Zoo’s press office on Monday morning. The reason, I discovered, was not to proclaim the transfer of seminal fluid from male to female panda (cause for celebration as that might be), but because the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) finally has a date set for the long-awaited arrival of a pair of giant pandas. When the FedEx Panda Express touches down in Edinburgh on Sunday, Tian-Tian and Yang-Guang will be the first giant pandas to set foot in Britain for 17 years. I’ve thought a lot – probably too much – about giant

WWF at 50

If you ever get the chance to sift through Max Nicholson’s archive (which, I’ll grant you, seems a little unlikely), it’s something quite astounding. Throughout his long life, which spanned pretty much the entire 20th century, ornithologist, author and administrator Nicholson had a hand in organising or leading dozens of environmental initiatives and organizations, several of which sit right up there at the forefront of the modern conservation movement. When it came to organisation and leadership, Nicholson was quite simply second to none: he was instrumental in setting up the Oxford Bird Census in 1927 (which provided the foundation for

How have conservation brands evolved?

I have an opinion article in today’s Nature that I’m quite pleased with. It’s called “The art of conservation”, which could make it the first time that a title I proposed at pitch has not mutated en route to publication. I have been thinking about conservation imagery for many years, making a brief survey of it in my first book Lonesome George and again in The Way of the Panda. With the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s panda logo 50 years old in July (almost certainly 16 July if you want to be precise), it seemed a good moment to reflect