CELEBRATORY flags are set to be unfurled at sites across the Capital if giant panda Tian Tian successfully delivers the first panda cub to be born in the UK.
The flags, which will be hung from Edinburgh landmarks such as Summerhall, The George Hotel, The Scotsman Hotel, Radison Blu Hotel, Camera Obscura and St John’s Church, have been provided by delivery firm FedEx, which first flew Tian Tian and male panda Yang Guang to Scotland on a chartered flight back in December 2011.
It is still unknown whether the female giant panda is indeed expecting a cub, after being artificially inseminated in April using sperm from Yang Guang and from another male panda named Bao Bao, who died at Berlin Zoo last year at the age of 34.
However, officials remain optimistic as recent behaviour of both pandas has been in keeping with reactions to an approaching birth.
Last week male panda Yang Guang went into hiding, which a spokeswoman for the zoo said was consistent with a reaction to Tian Tian’s raised hormone levels, adding: “It isn’t unheard of for male pandas who are close to females in the later stages of their pregnancy to respond in this way.”
Tian Tian has also chosen to hide away for the majority of recent weeks, and is described as off her food, moody and showing signs of “nesting” behaviour. Early in August the zoo revealed that two incubators were on standby in their nursery. Twin births are very common among pandas and protein analysis of Tian Tian’s urine conducted at a zoo in Berlin indicated that two cubs could be a possibility.
Should Tian Tian give birth to twins she will choose one to raise herself, and the other would be the responsibility of zoo staff when it is first born, but is likely to then be sent back to China to be raised in a “panda creche”.
Any cub born to Tian Tian that she chose to raise would remain in Edinburgh for the first two years of it’s life, and is likely to be on display for three quarters of that time, before being sent back to China.
Experts have predicted that if Tian Tian is indeed pregnant, the cub is likely to be born on September 10.
Pseudo, or phantom, pregnancies are extremely common in pandas, but if Tian Tian does give birth, the newborn cub – which will be pink, hairless and blind – will weigh in at just three to five ounces. A giant panda baby is the smallest mammal newborn relative to its mother’s size, outside of marsupials.
Should the pitter patter of tiny paws become a reality, the flags will be raised to ensure everyone in the city is aware of the joyous occasion.
A spokesman for Camera Obscura said: “Birth is always a miracle, but pandas are such rare creatures and conception is so difficult that a new panda cub really would be something very special and celebrated not just in Edinburgh, but all across the world. We want everyone to be part of that celebration and by raising the flags we hope to make sure as many people as possible hear the news quickly and join in.”
A spokesman for St John’s Church on Princes Street also referred to the potential birth of a panda cub in Edinburgh as a “community event”.
He said: “It really does feel like a community event and the Church is about joining with your community. We’re very pleased to be a part of it.”
Experts from around the world gather in Capital
The world’s foremost panda experts are gathering at Edinburgh Zoo from tomorrow for the first time for the Giant Panda Research Symposium.
Amongst many others, attending will be experts from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the China Wildlife Conservation Association, China Conservation and Research for Giant Pandas, the State Forestry Association for the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Academy of Science and Peking University. Key individuals from panda zoos around the world will also be present, including experts from Smithsonian National Zoological Park, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and Memphis Zoo.