THE giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo could have a test-tube baby if they continue to fail to reproduce naturally, managers have said.
The zoo said it would consider importing frozen panda sperm from China should Sunshine and Sweetie not manage to have cubs.
The admission came as Sweetie – or Tian Tian – is expected to start her annual 36-hour breeding window later this week.
Pressure has been mounting for the pair to breed since their much-publicised arrival at the city zoo in 2011.
Admitting that artificial methods may be an option, the zoo stressed that that would only be explored in “a few years” if the pandas still had not produced any offspring.
Iain Valentine, panda director at the zoo, said: “There are other male pandas who could provide samples, but it would involve negotiations with the Chinese government.”
A spokeswoman added that it was possible that the pair were genetically incompatible, but that that was “extremely rare”.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs the zoo, announced last week that Tian Tian was showing signs of a hormone crossover, meaning she will soon be ready to mate.
Female pandas can only conceive during a 36-hour period each year. Experts believe this fertile window will fall within the next ten days for Tian Tian after she showed telltale signs, becoming temperamental and going off her food.
The male, Yang Guang, is also showing signs that he is ready to mate: he has an increased appetite for bamboo and is doing handstands against his enclosure’s walls to demonstrate his virility.