The UK’s only female giant panda, Tian Tian, has been artificially inseminated for a third time.
Edinburgh Zoo said the procedure took place yesterday, before an attempt is made at natural mating with partner Yang Guang later.
Keepers have inseminated Tian Tian on two previous occasions but she has failed to produce a panda cub.
Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years. The animals arrived on loan from China in December 2011 and will remain at Edinburgh Zoo for a decade.
There were hopes a panda cub would be born last year when Tian Tian became pregnant after insemination. Vets who closely monitored her believe she may have reabsorbed the foetus.
Panda reproduction is a tricky process, with females only ovulating once a year. The gestation period is typically five months and one or two cubs are usually born.
The Edinburgh team were assisted by Doctor Wang Chengdong from the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas.
Animal protection charity OneKind is critical of the zoo’s efforts to produce a panda cub.
Policy director Libby Anderson said: “We are disappointed to hear the zoo is going down the route of artificial insemination again following previous unsuccessful attempts to breed from Tian Tian.
“We think now is the time to leave these animals in peace.”