Courier takes panda samples to Chester daily

Steven Bruce heads off from the zoo. Picture: Rob McDougall
Steven Bruce heads off from the zoo. Picture: Rob McDougall
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MOST would-be parents would travel to the ends of the Earth if it increased their chance of conception, but for Edinburgh Zoo’s most celebrated residents things aren’t so black and white.

Motorbike courier Steven Bruce, 34, from Fairmilehead, has been handed a prime role in the Capital’s biggest love story.

Each month he travels more than 5000 miles – the distance between Edinburgh and pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang’s home country of China – ferrying prized hormone samples for testing.

Each day, the Citysprint Healthcare driver completes a 360-mile round trip, biking the precious cargo to Dr Susan Walker at Chester Zoo Endocrine Laboratory, where she performs tests to determine the levels of Tian Tian’s hormones.

For zoo bosses, the samples are key to understanding the narrow window of opportunity where Tian Tian is receptive to potential mate Yang Guang, as it will only last for three days.

Married to Jill, 40, and father to Sam, 18, and Calvin, 11, Steven takes great pride in his role.

He said: “Everyone is really interested about what I do when I tell them, there is a real sense of excitement about anything to do with the pandas.

“I make sure Tian Tian’s samples are carefully transported each day and take great pride in playing a part in such an exciting and important part of the pandas stay at Edinburgh Zoo.

“My children are certainly very excited about what I am doing and we all have our fingers crossed for the pandas.”

Up until recently, Mr Bruce had biked the precious cargo on a weekly basis, but as the big day gets closer the zoo has started to collect the samples daily which, along with a close study of Tian Tian’s behaviour, will provide a clearer indication of when she will be in the mood for love.

Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “Each day CitySprint Healthcare courier urine samples from Tian Tian to Chester Zoo for testing to help pinpoint when she will come into season.

“We are looking for a hormone crossover that tells us, combined with behavioural observation, that the 36-hour breeding window is likely to be around ten to 14 days away.

“It is crucial for these samples to arrive safely and on time each day. We also send samples on a daily basis to the Centre for Integrative Physiology at the University of Edinburgh who test for the same thing.”