Edinburgh Zoo pandas fail to mate for second year

EDINBURGH Zoo’s female giant panda has been artificially inseminated for a second time after she and her intended partner once again failed to mate.

Edinburgh Zoo's giant panda Tian Tian. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Staff had hoped that this might be the year when nature would take its course between Tian Tian and her companion Yang Guang, but they were forced to move swiftly to artificial insemination when Tian Tian’s hormone levels began to dip during the pandas’ short breeding window.

The procedure was carried out on Sunday using samples from Yang Guang.

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Last year, Tian Tian lost her foetus after she was inseminated three times using samples from Yang Guang and another panda Bao Bao, whose sperm was frozen before he died in Berlin Zoo in 2012, aged 34.

Experts said they will not know for certain whether Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth, which could be in August or September.

Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: “We were hopeful natural mating would occur this year, but in the end Tian Tian’s hormones started to fall quickly, which meant her breeding window could be shorter.”

The zoo said both pandas recovered well from the artificial insemination and were up and about soon afterwards, with Yang Guang enjoying honey and bamboo 15 minutes later.

Mr Valentine said: “The panda enclosure will remain closed to the public until Wednesday, but both pandas have been out and about, are eating well and are in good health.

“As giant pandas experience pseudo pregnancies and delayed implantation, it is very likely we will not 100 per cent know if Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth. This is usually August to September but can continue much later, as we saw last year.”

Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years. The pair, now both aged ten, arrived on loan from China in December 2011 and will remain at Edinburgh Zoo for a decade.

The zoo said the panda breeding programme can play an important role in the conservation of the species.

Chris West, chief executive of the RZSS, said: “Pandas are in actual fact not poor breeders. They existed on the planet for many millennia before man intervened and deforestation caused the fragmentation of populations.

He added: “If we can assist Tian Tian and Yang Guang to breed, we will be adding to the total number of pandas in zoos around the world and in breeding centres in China. The more there are, the greater and more diverse the gene pool is from which pandas can be selected for reintroduction.”