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Scientists decode panda language

/ 01:24 PM November 08, 2015
A giant panda relaxes at Hangzhou Zoo in Zhejiang province.[Xu Kangping/For China Daily]

A giant panda relaxes at Hangzhou Zoo in Zhejiang province. Photo by: Xu Kangping/China Daily

CHINA — Giant pandas baa like sheep to say “I love you” and warble a cheerful “I do” when wooed by a suitor, according to staff members at a panda breeding center in Southwest China’s Sichuan province.

Researchers there have decoded 13 different kinds of giant panda vocalizations in a surprising new insight into the private life of the reclusive creatures.

The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda has been working on a panda linguistics project since 2010. Scientists first made recordings of pandas at the center, vocalizations between cubs and adults in various situations, such as when they were eating, mating, nursing, fighting and so on, said Zhang Hemin, head of the center.

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Then they collected a large amount of data on pandas’ voices and activities, and analyzed the voiceprints.

“We managed to decode some panda language and the results are quite interesting,” Zhang said.

Panda cubs can barely vocalize at all except to say things like “Gee-Gee” (I’m hungry), “Wow-Wow” (Not happy!) or “Coo-Coo” (Nice!).

“Adult giant pandas usually are solitary, so the only language teacher they have is their own mother,” the researcher said.

When they grow a little, cubs learn how to express themselves by roaring, barking, shouting, squeaking, bleating and chirping. “If a panda mother keeps tweeting like a bird, she may be anxious about her babies. She barks loudly when a stranger comes near,” Zhang said.

The barking can be interpreted as “getting out of my place”, according to the researcher. Pandas can be as gentle as a lamb when they are “in love”. Male pandas baa all the time when they are wooing their lovers. The females respond with constant tweeting if they feel the same.

“Trust me. Our researchers were so confused when we began the project that they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep,” Zhang said.

The center plans to continue the study and is looking forward to the creation of a panda translator that could use high-tech voice recognition technology. “If we can understand their language, it will help us protect the animal, especially in the wild,” he said.

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Fewer than 2,000 pandas live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces. There were 375 giant pandas in captivity at the end of 2013, about 200 of them at Zhang’s center.

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TAGS: China, Communication, giant panda, language, Panda, panda language, Research, Science, scientist, vocalization
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