UNTIL now, the bagpipe has been better known as a martial instrument to be sounded in battle than as a marital aid for mating pandas.
But the little-known aphrodisiac qualities of Scotland’s national instrument are to be used to get Edinburgh zoo’s pandas in the mood for love.
With the female panda Tian Tian due to come into season this week, keepers are determined to give her and her partner Yang Guang every chance of conceiving.
Studies have shown that as for humans, for pandas too music is the food of love.
Zoos in the Far East found the animals became more amorous when listening to traditional Chinese music, and increased the chances of conception.
But already under fire for the costs involved in keeping the pandas in Edinburgh, zoo bosses have decided against the expense of bringing musicians in from China and instead have hired a local piper, because bagpipes use pentatonic scales similar to those commonly found in Chinese music.
Research in China’s biggest panda breeding zoo at Getitupye has found that only live music has an effect, and pandas do not react to serenades from CDs or iPods.
Zoo keepers are hopeful of success because they noticed that Yang Guang got a bit frisky when the music of pipe bands and buskers playing at Murrayfield in February before the Calcutta Cup was carried on the wind to the nearby zoo on Corstorphine Hill.
With the critical three-day period in which Tian Tian is most amenable to breeding approaching, zoo keepers will be supervising the piper serenading the two pandas with pipe melodies to encourage their courtship.
“For years we didn’t know that pandas responded to any sort of pipes apart from those of the bamboo variety,” said Professor Flora Ilop of the Institute for Panda Studies in Dumbarton.
“But there does appear to be a strong link between the tonality and scales used in Scottish traditional music and the indigenous music of China. We think that this may account for the Edinburgh pandas responding to pipe music.”
“When the piper played in a controlled environment, Yang Guang began to roar along with the music, behaviour that is associated with sexual excitement,” a spokeswoman said. “We also observed that Tian Tian began to groom herself frantically.”
“We are even thinking of commissioning a new tune. Someone suggested the romantic title of ‘The Mucking of Tian Tian’s Enclosure’.”
Piper Hugh Pratt, the man hired for the job by the zoo said: “Bagpipe music always does it for me and Mrs Pratt, so why not for the pandas.”
The piper said he had started learning appropriate tunes and his new set would include Ebony And Ivory, Black Eyed Boy and the theme from Animal Magic.