Edinburgh Zoo pandas prepared for next mating bid

Tian Tian, pictured, and Yang Guang are being kept in. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Tian Tian, pictured, and Yang Guang are being kept in. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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Zoo bosses have started work to prepare their giant pandas for breeding in the hope of welcoming a cub to the attraction.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been taken off show while experts take a semen sample from Yang Guang, which may be used for artificial insemination. Meanwhile, an internal examination will be performed on Tian Tian to ensure she is in the best of health.

The popular panda cam will also be unavailable for a few days due to pre-breeding preparations.

The would-be parents have failed to reproduce since their arrival at Edinburgh Zoo two years ago. But with another breeding season getting under way, it is hoped it will be a case of third time lucky for the attraction.

There was heartache last year as, after months of waiting, the zoo confirmed that Tian Tian was no longer going to have a cub.

Experts believe the ten-year-old bear conceived and carried a foetus until late term but then lost it.

Panda expert Jeroen Jacobs said the zoo would face another challenge breeding the bears, which are notoriously hard to reproduce.

He said: “There is always a 50-50 chance that breeding will be successful. The keepers will do everything they can to make it work and use the expertise they have gained over the past two years.”

Both animals have produced offspring before, with Tian Tian previously giving birth to twins. Female pandas are fertile for only two or three days each year, usually between March and May.

Earlier this month it emerged Yang Guang had been put on a course of fertility and vitamin pills ahead of the mating season.

A zoo spokesperson said: “The giant panda enclosure has been closed to allow routine pre-breeding health checks on Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

“Similar to last year, alongside our own experts, RZSS (Royal Zoological Society of Scotland) is working together with a number of global colleagues on the complex science that goes on behind the scenes. Experts from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, who performed the artificial insemination procedure last year, returned this year to perform pre- breeding health checks.

“The pandas are in great health and condition, things are progressing nicely and extra samples were taken from Yang Guang as a back-up measure.

“The giant pandas will be back on show from Friday. Visitors who had booked panda viewing slots for those two dates were notified in advance.”

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It had been estimated that a baby panda could be worth as much as £50 million to the Edinburgh economy over the next decade.

And the tally could be more if Tian Tian gives birth to twins, which often happens in panda pregnancies.

Around 500,000 people visited the zoo in the year following the pandas’ arrival in December 2011. Visitors included actress Nicole Kidman, right, and the Princess Royal.