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Giant pandas failed to show mirror self-recognition

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Abstract

Mirror self-recognition (MSR), i.e., the ability to recognize oneself in a mirror, is considered a potential index of self-recognition and the foundation of individual development. A wealth of literature on MSR is available for social animals, such as chimpanzees, Asian elephants and dolphins, yet little is known about MSR in solitary mammalian species. We aimed to evaluate whether the giant panda can recognize itself in the mirror, and whether this capacity varies with age. Thirty-four captive giant pandas (F:M = 18:16; juveniles, sub-adults and adults) were subjected to four mirror tests: covered mirror tests, open mirror tests, water mark control tests, and mark tests. The results showed that, though adult, sub-adult and juvenile pandas exposed to mirrors spent similar amounts of time in social mirror-directed behaviors (χ2 = 0.719, P = 0.698), none of them used the mirror to touch the mark on their head, a self-directed behavior suggesting MSR. Individuals of all age groups initially displayed attacking, threatening, foot scraping and backwards walking behaviors when exposed to their self-images in the mirror. Our data indicate that, regardless of age, the giant pandas did not recognize their self-image in the mirror, but instead considered the image to be a conspecific. Our results add to the available information on mirror self-recognition in large mammals, provide new information on a solitary species, and will be useful for enclosure design and captive animal management.

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Acknowledgments

We thank staff at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda for their assistance in data collection and animal management. This work was supported by grants from the Natural Science Foundation of China NSFC (Grant No. 31172097, 31472009), the National Key Technology R & D Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (Grant No. 2012BAC01B06), and the International Collaborative Project on the Conservation for the Giant Panda to D Liu (Grant No. Beijing-2010-02) and R Wei (Grant No. SD0630).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

The experiments comply with the current laws of the People’s Republic of China.

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Correspondence to Dingzhen Liu.

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Ma, X., Jin, Y., Luo, B. et al. Giant pandas failed to show mirror self-recognition. Anim Cogn 18, 713–721 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0838-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0838-4

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