The ‘gee-gee’, ‘wow-wow’ of panda language decoded

Beijing: A group of Chinese researchers has decoded 13 different kinds of giant panda vocalisations in a surprising new insight into the private life of the reclusive creatures, the media reported on Friday. The China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda has been working on a panda linguistics project since 2010, the China Daily reported.

Scientists first made recordings of pandas at the centre, vocalisations 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 centre. Then they collected a large amount of data on pandas’ voices and activities, and analysed the voiceprints.

Panda cubs can barely vocalise 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.

“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. 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 centre.

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