Commentary: Improving well-being for captive giant pandas: Theoretical and practical issues



Here we present the outcome of a panel discussion from Panda 2000, an International conference held in San Diego, California. The discussion addressed how to use animal motivation theory to develop enrichment programs that will improve physical and psychological well-being for giant pandas in captivity. Wild animals held in captivity too often develop behavioral abnormalities such as stereotypies. The motivational basis for these problems is related to species-specific behavioral needs that arise from evolutionary processes adapting the animal to its environment. A more general need is the need for animals to exercise some control over their environment. We discussed these general principles of environmental enrichment with regard to past and future attempts to devise enrichment programs for giant pandas, Ailuropoda melanoleuca. Where possible, we looked to nature for guidance, but agreed that creative attempts to develop functional analogues of natural tasks and challenges is appropriate, regardless of “naturalness.” A holistic enrichment program should include improved enclosure design and husbandry practices; feeding enrichment modeled after bamboo feeding when possible; species-appropriate opportunities for social interaction and communication; and routine exposure to a diverse array of novel objects to stimulate play and exploration. These enrichment efforts should attempt to address specific behavioral needs or give the animal more choice and control over its environment. Zoo Biol 22:347–354, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.