"Giant pandas in captivity may be experiencing a form of ‘jet lag’ due to a mismatch between their environment and their internal body clock," a new study warns. This internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm, governs when creatures, including humans, perform certain activities, such as eating and sleeping. However, when the environmental cues pandas receive in captivity do not align with those of their natural habitat, their behavior may become more erratic, potentially exacerbating the challenges faced by this endangered species, according to the study published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal.
"Animals have evolved rhythms to synchronize their internal environment with the external environment," explains lead study author Kristine Gandia, a PhD student at the University of Stirling in Scotland. When these internal clocks are not synchronized with external cues such as light and temperature, animals can experience adverse effects. These effects can range from jet lag in humans to metabolic issues and even seasonal affective disorder. Gandia and her team of 13 scientists set out to examine how such a change from their natural environment would impact giant pandas. The findings could have significant implications for the well-being of these beloved creatures.
Jet Lag-Like Symptoms in Captive Giant Pandas: A New Study Reveals
A recent study has suggested that captive giant pandas may be experiencing a form of "jet lag" due to the misalignment of their internal body clocks with environmental cues. This condition could potentially add to the challenges faced by this endangered species.
The Role of Circadian Rhythm
Like humans, giant pandas possess a circadian rhythm, an internal body clock that guides their daily activities such as eating and sleeping. This rhythm is influenced by environmental cues. However, when these cues do not align with those in their natural habitat, pandas’ behavior might become more erratic, leading to negative impact on their health. The research was published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal on Monday.
"Animals, including humans, have evolved rhythms to synchronize their internal environment with the external environment," said lead study author Kristine Gandia, a PhD student at the University of Stirling in Scotland. "When internal clocks are not synchronized with external cues like light and temperature, animals experience adverse effects,” she added.
The Study and Its Findings
Gandia and a team of 13 other scientists embarked on a study to understand how a change from their natural environment would impact the giant pandas. The team focused on pandas due to their cyclical lifestyles, which include migrations in the spring to search for a specific type of bamboo and to mate.
The researchers monitored 11 giant pandas at six different zoos worldwide, all born in captivity. The study did not disclose the exact locations of the zoos but revealed that they were divided between those within the same latitude as pandas’ natural habitat in China and those outside this range.
The team observed the pandas every month for a year, noting changes in their behavior. They found that each panda exhibited three peak activity times over a 24-hour period, just as they would in the wild. However, pandas living outside of their home latitude were less active, with Gandia suggesting that the difference in daylight hours and temperature cues from their natural habitat might be the cause.
Potential Implications of the Findings
Gandia’s study underscores the potential challenges faced by animals in captivity, particularly those whose natural habitats are drastically different from their captive environments. The findings could inform strategies for improving the welfare of captive pandas, such as adjusting lighting and temperature to better mimic their natural conditions.
In conclusion, while the benefits of captivity, including protection from predators and provision of consistent food sources, are undeniable, it is crucial to consider the potential adverse effects, such as the "jet lag" symptoms observed in this study. More research is needed to further understand these effects and devise strategies to mitigate them.