AFTER weeks of sexual posturing, mood music and even something called a “love tunnel”, Edinburgh Zoo experts are hopeful there will soon be the pitter-patter of panda paws.
They believe their resident giant pandas are ready to get it on and have named mid-April as the most likely time for fireworks.
Keepers have set the date based on female Tian Tian’s hormone fluctuations following a prolonged courtship which has seen Yang Guang perform “pawstands” to prove his virility and mood music piped into their purpose-built £280,000 enclosure.
Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “It’s an exciting time at Edinburgh Zoo and we hope to have some news to share soon.
“A combination of methods is used to predict when female pandas go into season, primarily hormone analysis and behavioural observation.
“Both pandas started to show breeding behaviours pretty early this year when compared to 2012, which is a sign that they’re nice and settled in their home in Scotland.”
Last year’s mating season ended in disappointment after the pair failed to hit it off during the 36-hour annual window of opportunity, but with both now appearing to be in the mood, the latest signs are good.
Public anticipation is clearly building too, with panda viewing tickets selling out every day over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Bosses are pulling out all the stops to get the couple relaxed and ready for reproduction.
Yang Guang’s radio has been switched from Classic FM to the more relaxing, easy-listening sounds of Smooth Radio, after keepers noticed it seemed to keep him calm.
The nine-year-old has found a new spot to show off his handstands – against the glass of the viewing area which is giving visitors an “up close and personal” view of mating behaviour.
They have also been getting him used to the unfortunately titled “love tunnel” – which links the two pandas enclosures – a conduit that will become crucial in just two short weeks.
Tian Tian has been trained to stand on her hind legs so that keepers can perform ultrasound scans to check her ovaries and womb and, hopefully, later to monitor her pregnancy.
Mr Valentine said: “Tian Tian has shown hormone fluctuations a couple of times that suggested we were about to see a hormonal crossover that then tells us the 36-hour breeding window is 11 to 14 days away. This is all a pretty normal part of the journey.
“We’re still to see this indicator and we wait in anticipation each day. However, the giant panda breeding season peak is actually mid-April, sometimes lasting until early May.
“Tian Tian over the last three years has varied anything up to a month from one year to the next in terms of when she’s come into season.”
Experts are being brought in from Berlin to perform artificial insemination on Tian Tian as a back-up.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years. They have both bred before, although not with each other. They arrived in Edinburgh from China in December 2011.
Two’s company is big business
THE nine-year-old pair arrived from China on a ten-year loan in December 2011.
Breeding in captivity has become vital to the giant pandas’ survival because of the destruction of bamboo forests in China and south-east Asia, their habitat.
The pair are the first giant pandas to come to the UK in 17 years after a panda called Ming was sent back to China in 1994.
Tian Tian was born on August 24, 2003, and her name translates to “Sweetie” in Chinese.
She has given birth to twins, however she has not bred with Yang Guang, the male panda.
He was born on August 14, 2003, and his name means “Sunshine”.
The zoo pays the Chinese £636,000 a year for the pandas. Zoo bosses also need to buy £70,000 worth of bamboo a year. The enclosures cost £285,000.
The number of extra adult tickets that will need to be sold each week for ten years to cover costs is 916.