EDINBURGH’S female giant panda Tian Tian has raised hopes she could be pregnant by showing signs of nesting - but keepers moved to calm the excitement by insisting it’s simply too early to tell.
While they are desperate to hear the pitter patter of panda paws, it will be at least a month before her pregnancy can be confirmed.
Zoo chiefs say the nine-year-old has started showing signs of nesting – preparing a home for her potential newcomer.
But Chris West, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said Tian Tian was still at stage one of her hormonal indicators.
He said: “It is still too early to tell at this stage and any suggestion that the female panda is pregnant is pure hopeful speculation.
“We may not know for a good few weeks yet.
“We are only eight weeks post-artificial insemination at the moment and we have not detected a second rise in progesterone in Tian Tian yet.
“This second hormone rise will then either indicate pseudo pregnancy or a real pregnancy, and if real, then confirms we are 40 to 50 days from a potential birth.
“Pandas also show nesting behaviour whether they are pregnant or not. As previously stated, we will not have any more information until the end of July or early August time.”
Tian Tian was artificially inseminated by a team of experts in April after attempts to mate her with Yang Guang were unsuccessful.
They used sperm from Yang Guang and thawed sperm from a panda called Bao Bao, who died in Berlin zoo aged 34 last year.
Last month we revealed the pandas have led to a £5 million surge in income for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
The zoo’s charitable owners reported its overall income soared to nearly £15m last year, and the number of visitors leapt by 51 per cent following the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang in late December 2011.
A cub would be the first ever born in Britain and be worth millions to the Capital attraction with extra tourist revenue and ticket sales. It could boost visitor numbers by another 50 per cent, comfortably taking it above the one million mark, Mr West has admitted. He said all staff at the zoo, and those from further afield were hopeful she will be pregnant.
“We are of course working closely with our Chinese colleagues and those in American panda zoos with cubs, and we will look to use a combination of ultrasound imaging and hormone assays to make the confirmation, whilst working around Tian Tian’s needs and behaviour at all times. We do not work in isolation, but share expertise as a collective.
“As soon as we know either way we will let everyone know the outcome, until then we wait in suspense alongside everyone else. A cub would be amazing for the overall conservation effort and for visitors.”