ZOO officials have given the strongest indication yet that Edinburgh’s giant panda is pregnant.
The hormone and protein levels recorded for Tian Tian in the latest round of testing suggest she is expecting a cub in what would be a huge success after the Zoo resorted to artificial insemination in April after the pair twice tried and failed to mate naturally .
Zoology experts said changes in behaviour, with the animal off her food, moody and showing signs of “nesting” behaviour, were another strong sign the long-awaited pregnancy was now a reality.
If correct, the ground-breaking birth would be a huge fillip for the zoo and a major boost for the city A baby giant panda has never been born in the UK.
Keepers will not know for certain until just before the panda gives birth. They have estimated it is likely to happen between August 24 and September 10.
Tian Tian and the zoo’s male, Yang Guang, are Britain’s only pair of giant pandas.
Iain Valentine, director of the zoo’s giant panda programme, said things were looking good, with the potential for Tian Tian to have twins by different fathers. One of those would be the zoo’s male panda.
“We used two different males for the artificial insemination,” Mr Valentine said. “It’s hugely exciting.”
The first indication of the pregnancy has been a spike in the hormone progesterone, which was tested by sending Tian Tian’s urine samples to Berlin’s world-leading Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
The increase in levels was first detected on July 15. A second round of testing confirmed the sample this week.
Dr Martin Dehnhard, from the Leibniz Institute, said: “The hormone concentrations we measured in the urine sample from the panda increased. That tells me that she is pregnant or pseudo-pregnant.”
A pseudo - or phantom - pregnancy is possible and extremely common in pandas.
However, the state-of-the-art testing developed by Memphis Zoo in the United States and used in this case significantly reduced the chance of a false reading.
The pandas have twice tried and failed to mate naturally.
A newborn cub is born about the size of a stick of butter - a 1/900th of its mother’s size - and weighs in at three to five ounces, about the same as an iPhone.
The infant is pink, hairless and blind, A giant panda baby is the smallest mammal newborn relative to its mother’s size, outside of marsupials, including the kangaroo.
The cub’s small size means an ultrasound is not a definite means of confirming the pregnancy, as any foetus is tiny.
Two incubators will be on standby in the zoo’s panda nursery in case Tian Tian has twins.
Michael Livingstone, one of the panda keepers, said of the public reaction: “I think it’ll just explode. I think there’s going to be a very big buzz about it.”
Pandas boost Edinburgh coffers
Edinburgh Zoo has become one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions with the arrival of giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang in December 2011.
The Zoo attracted more than 800,000 visitors last year, compared with 525,000 over the whole of 2011.
It has give the attraction’s coffers a massive boost as it celebrates it’s 100th birthday.
Should Tian Tian give birth it will be an even bigger money spinner, for both it and the city.
Baby pandas normally live with their mother for up to three years, but under the 10 year loan deal with China any cub born will have to be returned to its homeland within two years.
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