SCOTLAND’s female giant panda is pregnant and may give birth by the end of this month, Edinburgh Zoo has said.
After months of speculation and dashed hopes in recent years, the zoo stated that the latest scientific data it has suggests Tian Tian – Chinese for “Sweetie” – has conceived following artificial insemination in April.
Experts and keepers are closely monitoring the hormone and protein levels in her urine on a daily basis. Zoo officials warned they would not be certain until she gives birth.
Two Chinese panda experts are set to fly into the capital over the coming days, ahead of an anticipated delivery at the end of the month. If successful, the new arrival will be the UK’s first ever panda cub.
Visitors to the zoo yesterday told of their delight at the news of the imminent birth.
Katie Elder, 26, from Dundee, was visiting with her friend, Gemma Cunningham, 25, and Gemma’s children, Erin, 3, and baby Callan. “We’ll definitely come back to see the cub once it’s born. We purposefully came here to see the pandas today but all that was on show was the male one, so it would be nice to see them all together,” she told The Scotsman.
Karl Howarth, 25, and his girlfriend, Eilidh Norton, 26, from Forfar, also went to the zoo yesterday and said: “It’s about time really, given the time and money spent on making her pregnant. We’ve been waiting long enough. It will be great for drawing in more tourists, though.”
Tony Dale, 40, from Newcastle, was visiting the zoo for a third time with his family and said: “It’s great news. I’d bring the family back to see the little panda after it’s born.”
Tian Tian previously conceived last year after artificial insemination; however she is thought to have re-absorbed the foetus late-term. She was artificially inseminated on 13 April this year and zoo officials have been closely watching her since, noting a lack of appetite and the fact she was very sleepy.
Iain Valentine, director of the panda programme, said: “The latest scientific data suggests Tian Tian the giant panda is now pregnant and that implantation has taken place; therefore, she may give birth at the end of the month. This is all very new and complex science and we still have a bit of time to go yet as, like last year, the late loss of a cub remains entirely possible.”
Tian Tian and her male partner Yang Guang – which means “Sunshine” – are both aged 10 and arrived from China in 2011. They are the only pandas in Britain.
China has devoted significant resources to increasing panda numbers in recent years.
There are about 1,600 giant pandas in the wild, where they are critically endangered due to loss of habitat and low birth rates. More than 300 live in captivity, mostly in China’s breeding programmes.
Edinburgh Zoo has paid to keep Yang Guang and Tian Tian for 10 years at an annual fee of £600,000.
As part of this deal, a single cub born will remain in Edinburgh for two years before being sent back to China.
However, twins will bring added complications. When twin cubs are born in the wild, usually only one will survive, as panda mothers seem unable to produce enough milk for two.
As a result, Tian Tian would be left to raise one herself and staff would hand-rear the second with the help of an incubator.