What’s a girl to do? Panda love fizzles out at Edinburgh Zoo
ABSENCE makes the heart grow fonder and it could now be a full year before the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo get to grips with each other after their latest encounters ended last night without a successful coupling.
Like a drunken suitor, one whose spirit was willing but aim was weak, Yang Guang repeatedly tried to mate with Tian Tian without quite managing to hit the mark. As the authorities at Edinburgh Zoo explained yesterday, using terms not to be found in the Encyclopedia Zoologica, it was a case of “close, but no cigar”.
After failing to mate on Tuesday, the two pandas, who live in separate enclosures, were once again re-introduced to each other on a number of occasions yesterday but departed as good friends rather than parents-to-be, as staff at the zoo had hoped.
At one point Yang Guang appeared to be intent on applying a love bite to Tian Tian’s neck, to judge by footage released by the zoo, but such youthful fumblings were a long way from what is required by nature in order to achieve the first giant pandas born in Scotland.
However, last night the staff at Edinburgh Zoo said they were pleased with the manner in which the two pandas had interacted and said the pandas had met twice again yesterday evening. If Tian Tian’s hormone levels were right, they may be put together “one last time” early this morning, the spokeswoman added.
Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation, said: “Each time the pair met we saw a huge amount of eagerness and attraction between Tian Tian and Yang Guang. There was lots of vocalisation and encouragement from our female and physical contact between the two. He mounted her several times, however full mating did not occur. Although both have bred before and have borne cubs with other pandas, they are both still relatively inexperienced.
“At the end of the day, this is year one of a ten-year conservation project here at Edinburgh Zoo. We are hugely encouraged by how much the natural sparks flew between the two animals as, like humans, not all male and female pandas are attracted to each other.
“Both were keen to mate, but their inexperience showed. Baby cubs would have been a bonus this year, but we have to appreciate that the pandas have only just arrived and have had limited time to settle.
“Overall, we remain very pleased with the outcome of the last few weeks and it has been a fantastic trial run.
“As animal conservationists and scientists, we have learnt a huge amount in such a short time about this captivating species and look forward to the next ten years.”
Based on a combination of hormone testing and observation over several weeks, experts decided on Tuesday morning the time was right for Tian Tian and Yang Guang to meet.
As pandas are solitary creatures and very territorial, they only meet to mate. If they are unsuccessful today, the pair will return to their respective compounds and will not get together again until next spring, when Tian Tian is back in heat. They will, however, be able to call to each other and catch the occasional glimpse through the wire mesh gates.
If they fail to rise to the occasion, it could come as a blow to their principal sponsor, Lynx deodorant. Its advertising campaign would lead the casual viewer to believe a single spray of its product is all that is required to trigger animal magnetism in the opposite sex.
As part of the deal, Lynx has paid the fees of the couriers who have been taking Tian Tian’s daily urine samples to the lab for testing. It has also erected “motivational posters” of the two pandas outside the enclosure.
Kieran Danaher, a spokesman for Lynx Attract, the official partner for the panda mating season, said: “This has to be one of the most exciting mating games ever. It’s brilliant to see them using smell to make themselves more attractive.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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