In the latest attempt to encourage the sexually uninterested species to procreate in captivity, zookeepers are switching tactics to the as-yet-unused method of peer pressure.
Getting pandas to mate in captivity has been a struggle for many decades, and researchers and zookeepers have tried a number of methods to get the stubborn species to breed. Peer pressure, a method which has historically worked well in convincing teenage humans to mate, was proposed by Geneva Washburne, a zookeeper in Connecticut.
“We were meeting with some biologists about the problem,” Washburne explained, “and I just spoke up and said hey, what if we just tell them how well the grizzly bears and polar bears are getting along? That’ll sure make ’em jealous.”
Researchers decided to test this first by bringing experts in peer pressure to a zoo and having them try it out.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” said Tyler Pendergast, the local high school bully they brought to the zoo for the initial experiment. “I got to walk around in the panda pen for a while telling them what a bunch of dweebs they were. I was like, ‘Hey, you prude! What, are you scared someone will see you naked? See that girl panda over there? I bet she’d rather look at a rock than you.”
After observing a series of high schoolers practice their craft, researchers were confident they’d learned enough to try the practice out themselves. They dispersed themselves among the pandas in the enclosure and recited the scripts they had prepared.
“Hey, man,” said one researcher, leaning against a tree and reading his notes in an unconvincing monotone. “I notice you haven’t been getting any. What is up with that? I was just over with the polar bears, and they’re ‘doing it,’ like, every day.”
“Yo, have you been getting around, girl?” another researcher asked to a panda near the fence. “Because there’s a black bear across the street who is the queen of her domain, if you know what I mean. She can catch a bear any time of any day. You feel me?”
Zookeepers in several states are trying the method themselves, but they stress that it’s too early to expect any results.
“We really have to make sure the pandas know that it’s normal first,” one researcher explained. “It may take some time, but eventually, if we keep up the charade, they’ll think they’re the only ones not hitting it several times a week. After that, it’s just a matter of time before we see an explosion of newborn pandas.”