Chinese scientists say they have decoded 13 different giant panda vocalizations.
Researchers at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in the southwestern Sichuan Province made their findings during a five-year study that involved spectrum analysis done on recordings of the endangered species, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Among their findings were that adult male pandas baa when they are trying to woo females into mating and that adult female pandas chirp when they are interested.
“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,” said Zhang Hemin, head of the center.
The sounds made by panda cubs were also deciphered: “gee-gee” means hunger, “coo-coo” expresses satisfaction, and “wow-wow” means displeasure.
According to the researchers, pandas are solitary and thus learn much of their language from their mothers.
“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.
Researchers at the center, which has the world’s largest panda artificial breeding program, also hope to develop a “panda translator” that uses voice-recognition technology.
“If we can understand their language, it will help us protect the animal, especially in the wild,” the researcher said.
There are currently less than 2,000 giant pandas living in the wild today, all of them in China. More than 300 are in captivity, with a majority of those kept at the center.