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Edinburgh zoo pandas to back on public display

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  • by FIONA MACGREGOR
 

Edinburgh Zoo’s panda pair will go back on display after female Tian Tian was artificially inseminated.

• Tian Tian artificially inseminated after showing behaviour ‘not conducive to mating’

• Pandas failed to mate last year

Both pandas were said to be doing well and are expected to return to public display tomorrow.

If Tian Tian does become pregnant, confirmation will come in mid-July when she will have an ultrasound scan.

It would then be likely that her cub, or cubs, are born at the end of August or the beginning of September.

Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) arrived from China in December 2011 and have been a popular attraction, with visits from around 500,000 people in their first year, including actress Nicole Kidman and the Princess Royal.

The female giant panda has just a 36-hour period each year in which she is able to conceive and, with time running out, experts opted for artificial insemination as an alternative to the old-fashioned approach.

A team of experts from the UK, Germany and China spent the past week analysing Tian Tian’s every sound and gesture, waiting for the signal she was ready to mate.

Early last week, her grumpy behaviour and lack of appetite indicated hormonal changes that meant she was approaching her breeding peak, and by the start of the weekend she was making chirruping calls, which suggested her attitude towards Yang Guang was beginning to soften.

Throughout last week, the zoo swapped the pandas between enclosures and allowed them to interact with one another through a grate in an effort to get them in the mating mood.

Alas, it was not to be.

On Saturday morning, Yang Guang was spotted gazing longingly through the bars at his potential partner.

But despite his “consistently encouraging behaviour”, Tian Tian made it clear she was not in the mood.

Scientists suggested cold temperatures meant Tian Tian’s hormones were reaching their peak more slowly than would normally be expected.

A plan was already in place to use artificial insemination to increase Tian Tian’s chances of conception, even if they mate.

And in the early hours yesterday, following advice from Professor Wang Pengyan, of the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas, it was decided to go ahead with the procedure without delaying any longer to see if Tian Tian’s mood would change.

A zoo spokesman said yesterday: “Edinburgh Zoo’s specialist team and experts from around the world performed artificial insemination on female giant panda Tian Tian in the early hours of this morning.

“Natural mating was not attempted. Yang Guang had been interested and shown consistently encouraging behaviour. However, based on his many years’ experience, our Chinese colleague, Prof Wang, felt that, although Tian Tian had displayed all of the correct behaviours, she had also displayed signs that told him she would not be conducive to mating.”

The zoo spokeswoman added: “Both pandas and humans are sleeping today after an intensive week. The procedures went very much to plan and the giant pandas are both well, but will be off-show until Tuesday.”

If Tian Tian does becomes pregnant, confirmation will come in mid-July when experts will give her an ultrasound scan. It would then be likely that her cub, or cubs, are born at the end of August or the beginning of September.

It is difficult to predict the date Tian Tian will give birth if the insemination is effective, because pandas sometimes have “delayed implantation”, which means the time from mating to birth can be extended because the female panda’s body may respond to adverse conditions.

Under Edinburgh Zoo’s agreement with the Chinese authorities, which will see them keep Yang Guang and Tian Tian for ten years at an annual fee of £600,000, any cubs born to Tian Tian will remain in Edinburgh for two years before being sent back to China.

 

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