After an auspicious start on Sunday, which began with an early breeding between giant pandas Bai Yun and Gao Gao, San Diego Zoo staff had planned to give our pandas a break of several hours to rest. After the high level of physical exertion associated with breeding attempts, rest periods help recharge the bears’ batteries. The pandas grab a quick snack and a catnap and wake up feeling refreshed.
Somewhat unusually, Gao Gao maintained a very high level of motivation after that first breeding, refusing to rest. He motored about his exhibit, bleating and checking the howdy gate. He grabbed an occasional drink or bite to eat but kept his focus on his mate. Bai Yun, for her part, kept close to that gate, rear-presenting and making it clear she would be happy to have Gao Gao with her again. In order to take advantage of their obviously high level of arousal, we opted to skip the break period and allow them access to one another sooner rather than later. It paid off. At 10:29 a.m., a second mating was achieved.
Staff was elated. Both bears were doing well, we had two matings under our belt, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet. Despite the crazy weather (it was hailing on us at one point as we watched the bears wrestling in the drizzle), our charges seemed focused, strong, and willing. Surely now that they had managed to copulate twice, they would want to take a break, right?
Wrong. Maybe Gao Gao worried that Bai Yun might have weaker motivation the next day. Or maybe he was aware of his own tendency to be a little slower the day after breeding, feeling the effects of muscle fatigue and soreness. Or maybe he just likes his girlfriends covered in mud. For whatever reason, our boy just would not settle down! He continued to pace and bleat and paw at the gate when she was near. Bai Yun continued to bait him at the howdy gate.
It was decided that if the bears were up for it, we should let them have another shot. Again the gate was opened. For some time, the two worked the mating dance without success. The rain poured down some more, and the wind blew dried bamboo stems down from the stands surrounding the exhibits. And still they worked at it. Ultimately, they did not succeed, so we separated them again to reset the stage.
Almost comically, the bears again refused to leave each other alone. Really, Gao Gao? How can you be so undeterred by the mud and wind and rain? We are soaked through and exhausted just watching you. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you are a senior bear? But I digress.
After much debate, we opted to go with Gao Gao. Up went the howdy gate, down came the rain. They interacted for another half hour or so, but again no mating was realized. Surely, they must be done for the day, we thought. They had to be tuckered out by now. But…well, I think you can guess where this is going!
His motivation still urgent, Gao Gao was letting us know he was still very interested in Bai Yun. Some of Bai Yun’s sexual behaviors were still building in intensity, which was encouraging. However, as she tired, Bai Yun had seemed more and more slow about adopting a posture of lordosis, in which she lowers her shoulders to the ground. Let’s face it: Gao Gao, for all his vigor, isn’t a very big boy. If our female doesn’t get low to the ground, all the vigor in the world just isn’t going to help.
Maybe this was a factor of her age (“Oh, my aching back”), or perhaps the weather conditions (“It’s muddy and wet down there”). For whatever reason, Bai Yun was not as cooperative as Gao Gao would have liked, and this was a contributing factor to their lack of success midday.
Persistence pays off, however. The fifth time(!) we paired our bears, Gao Gao managed to coax Bai Yun into the proper position. He finally accomplished what he had been working so hard to achieve for the last few hours. A third copulation was realized at 1:28 p.m.
Sunday afternoon, we sealed the howdy gate between the bears and left them with a heavy feed. Our hope was that they would fill their bellies and rest. Ideally, we would like to see one more mating out of this pair, not because three isn’t a good number (it is!), but because we are interested in seeing if we could spread out the timing of their breedings a bit to ensure we catch that egg when it is released. The precise timing of ovulation in the breeding cycle is still a bit of an enigma to us, and we would like to have a wide breeding window to maximize the likelihood of fertilization. So we decided to come in again on Monday and try again.
Did Bai Yun remember to get her shoulders down? Did Gao Gao wake up too tired to try again? Did the hail return to spice things up? What happened on Monday? You’ll have to wait until my next installment to fill in those blanks. Right now, I’m going to crawl under a (dry) warm blanket and catch up on some rest myself.
(Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read this article and more about the San Diego Zoo pandas at The Giant Panda Blogs.)
2. He’s horny! Female pandas breed once per year (once every other year if they had a cub) and it’s about that time of year. Bai Yun and Gao Gao are the only naturally breeding pandas outside of China. Not only that, they have 4 successful cubs together, more than any other zoo. Last year was the first time they didn’t have a successful breeding season. This could be because Bai Yun may be reaching bearopause. So Gao Gao’s scent marking, checking the howdy gate (where he gets let into Bai Yun’s enclosure when she’s ready) and vocalizing may be all for not as Bai Yun might not be too into it anymore. Poor guy. Being sexual frustrated is so…. frustrating!
If you listen closely in the video, you can hear Gao Gao bleating, an appeasing, non-aggressive vocalization.
This is a very interesting interview from the Washington Post with a journalist outside the Invisible Children organization about her interactions with Invisible Children.
Invisible Children founders posing with guns: an interview with the photographer
I have respect for what Invisible Children trying to do with KONY 2012 because Joseph Kony is a HORRIBLE man but the LRA isn't just one man. If you haven't watched the video yet, you can watch it below.
This morning I had an echocardiogram. At the beginning of February I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever and the Echo was to rule out cardiac involvement. There are two types of Rheumatic Fever, with and without cardiac involvement. The kind with cardiac involvement can cause severe heart valve damage and, if gone untreated, can even lead to death. My rheumatologist suspects that mine is without but he wanted me to get my heart checked just in case since he heard a slight heart murmur during my exam.
Rheumatic fever develops after an infection with Streptococcus, the bacteria that cause strep throat and scarlet fever. Rheumatic Fever is uncommon in the United States, mainly affects children ages 6 -15, and occurs approximately 20 days after strep throat or scarlet fever if mis- or un-treated. I, however, am 27 and they suspect that I have had it for quite some time; 2-3 years even. However, Rheumatic Fever isn’t strictly characterized by its typical symptoms of high fever, chest pain and rash. Streptococcus is a master mimicker, affecting the heart, joints, skin, and brain much the same as autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, for which it’s named after. This is why I went to see a rheumatologist in the first place. After being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis and degenerative disc disease with in year, I had multiple doctors suggest I see a rheumatologist because I was a prime candidate for an autoimmune disorder.
Rheumatic Fever is diagnosed by looking at your ASO titer. ASO, or Anti-streptolysin O, is the antibody made to fight the toxin produced by most strains of streptococci. The average person, having had strep at least once in their life, has an ASO titer of around 0-100. After you get strep your ASO titer elevates as your body fights the infection, peaks up to around 200 a couple weeks after infection then falls to pre-infection levels within 6-12 months. In December, my ASO titer was 935, more than 9 times higher than the average person’s. This level is higher than any amount I could find on the internet when I was researching my diagnosis. I found one in the 700 range but most papers and articles were for patients with 400 or less. Pretty amazing considering I don’t feel that sick, although I have been more sick, more often than I have at any other period in my life. I also had my genes tested and I tested negative for all autoimmune disorders but positive for genes which code for gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance could be a factor in all this but we can talk about that another day…
Treatment for Rheumatic Fever is deep tissue penicillin injections once every three weeks for 6-18+ months. They will test my blood every 4 months to see if my ASO titer is decreasing. Hopefully it will work because I’m sick of getting sick and, from the sounds of it, it’s the only option!
So, while the bad news is, even after months of treatment, I am still susceptible to contracting it again, the good news is, I don’t have an autoimmune disorder and rheumatic fever is totally manageable!