Male giant pandas in a southwest China sanctuary are being fed Viagra in an attempt to get the notoriously sex-shy animals in the mood for mating, scientists said on Monday.



However initial tests proved unsuccessful on 16-year-old male panda Zhuang Zhuang – despite a name which translates as “Strong Strong,” they said.



Zhuang Zhuang last year became the first panda given the sex-assisting drug in an attempt by researchers to boost reproductivity at Chinas largest panda sanctuary, Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan province.


“No result on him at all,” said Wang Pengyan, deputy director of the reserve, where scientists try to breed pandas by encouraging them to mate, and if that fails, by artificial insemination.



Getting pandas in a loving mood has become something of an obsession to Wang and his colleagues in their decades-long effort to save one of the worlds most endangered species from extinction.



Male pandas low sexual desires often mean they fail to respond to females in heat, a rare enough opportunity in itself as females are in heat only for about three days a year.



Researchers already routinely show the animals what has been dubbed “panda porn” – videos of pandas mating – and administer Chinese aphrodisiacs herbs as well as estrogen to female pandas.



But pandas are so reluctant to mate in captivity that these schemes have had little success, prompting the Viagra plan, an idea that had been mooted before but rejected.



Zhuang Zhuang was given around 1.5 times the normal human dosage of the drug, used in humans to cure male erectile dysfunction, reserve staff said.



Wang said that Zhuang Zhuang had been an experiment, and that there were no immediate plans to make the drug a general policy due to worries about potential side effects.



“Theres been a lot of research on the effects of Viagra on humans, but for pandas its a big question mark,” Wang said.



But other experts said Viagra might be worth a further try, placing the blame for the initial failure mainly on Zhuang Zhuang, who is middle-aged in panda terms.



“You cant say Viagra has no results on pandas. We used the wrong panda. That panda basically has no capability,” said Guo Feng, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences studying panda behavior in Wolong.



“In the last few years, weve given Zhuang Zhuang many chances but he simply cant do it.”



In contrast the “panda porn” appears to be having some effect, according to Wang, saying pandas became more aroused after watching the X-rated scenes, played for them several hours a day during the spring mating season.



Next year, the reserve hopes to begin releasing pandas born in captivity into the wild, where there is far more chance they will mate.



Under a pilot program, a mother and a child panda will be released, first into a small fenced-in area, and if they adapt well, into the 500,000-acre (200,000 hectare) reserves forests, Guo said.



Pandas in the wild tend to exhibit more normal mating behavior, Wang said, as they can indulge in the species’ elaborate mating rituals, which sees males compete fiercely with each other for a female in heat.



In captivity, females in heat are released into a corridor and allowed to walk down a row of around four pens containing one male panda each. Judging from the scent, she stops by the male with which she wants to mate – but often chooses none.



Thats when researchers resort to artificial insemination.



“Its best to let them reproduce naturally. Forcing them is not good,” Guo said.



Only about 1,100 pandas live in the wild, mostly in Sichuans forests along the edge of the Tibetan plateau, with another 120 in captivity, with the majority in the Wolong reserve.

0