PANDA guides at Edinburgh Zoo have said there is further evidence Tian Tian is pregnant, leading to renewed hope that she could give birth to the UK’s first cub.
Staff said her male partner, Yang Guang, has repeatedly become agitated by what is thought to be the level of hormones that the female is giving off. He has withdrawn from the public enclosure several times as a result, the zoo said, and has been unsettled.
The news follows the initial window estimated for the birth passing on 10 September, and speculation that a cub may not arrive this year. Only a week ago, hopes began to fade as zoo chiefs openly admitted it was only “possible” Tian Tian was pregnant.
But a guide in the enclosure yesterday gave visitors the impression they are in little, if any, doubt about a happy outcome.
He said: “We think Tian Tian will give birth any day now because of a hormone she is giving off.”
He also revealed that the male panda, Yang Guang, had been severely affected by the hormone. “The hormone is making Yang Guang really restless,” said the guide.
Despite the apparent optimism of staff though, a zoo spokeswoman said the situation remains unclear.
She said: “In terms of Tian Tian’s possible pregnancy, we’re not out of the game yet, although she’s keeping us on our toes. Her hormones are following an atypical pattern, with lots of rises and dips, which make timings much harder to predict.
“Predicting pregnancy in giant pandas isn’t straightforward and we’re all rapidly learning that Tian Tian is a panda whose behaviour and physiology appears to be more complicated than most.”
On 10 September the zoo said that Tian Tian may have experienced a spike in a hormone called progesterone two weeks later than the results suggested, leaving the window for a possible birth open until next week.
Edinburgh’s female panda was artificially inseminated with the sperm of Yang Guang and another panda, Bao Bao, from Berlin Zoo, in April. In early August the zoo first indicated that she could be pregnant.
The test earlier this year detected a rise in Tian Tian’s progesterone levels. However, as the zoo have been unable to carry out an ultrasound on the panda – Tian Tian has not allowed them to – they have never been able to confirm the pregnancy.
The zoo’s panda team last month said she was showing signs of “nesting behaviour,” a strong indicator that she is pregnant.
Expert Henry Nicholls last week said it was likely Tian Tian was not pregnant as she had gone well past the average time for giving birth.
The specialist team who work with the panda have been given access to 24 hour CCTV footage at their homes so they can monitor the panda for signs of labour.