WHEN it comes to courtship, everyone does it differently. Some ladies like to put on their best dress, others a spray of intoxicating perfume, but for one of Edinburgh’s most famous females it seems nothing says romance like plunging into a pool of cold water.
Giant panda Tian Tian has got her keepers hot under the collar after splashing around and enjoying the water in her custom-built plunge pool.
What to the untrained eye might appear to be little more than an animal having a bit of fun on a warm spring day is actually a signal that Tian Tian is coming into season.
For bosses at the zoo, who are eager to see their latest arrivals produce a baby panda, there has been more good news in the extrovert behaviour of male panda Yang Guang.
Shunning traditional male dating rituals of dinner and a film, he has instead been stuffing his face, doubling his intake of bamboo in an attempt to get into peak physical condition.
He has also started “displaying” – performing handstands in front of Tian Tian while spraying his scent around his enclosure.
The pair have even been making amorous eyes at one another, with thrilled visitors seeing them both up at an area separating their enclosures, which has now been dubbed “the love tunnel”.
Keepers have been closely monitoring Tian Tian’s hormones, as the window of opportunity for successful mating is just three days so they have to be ready to go as soon as she is.
While they said daily tests still had not revealed any shift in her hormones, the change in her behaviour was a positive sign that things were moving in the right direction.
Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation, said: “It’s a promising sign that Tian Tian is going into her pool. It’s not something she’s really done so far.
“Our Chinese colleagues have told us it’s a key sign to watch out for and she’s likely to be doing it to cool down as her body prepares for ovulation.
“Yang Guang is eating like a champion, going through twice as much bamboo each day as normal.
“Male pandas often do this to bulk up for the breeding season. Last night you could barely see Yang Guang for all the bamboo in his enclosure.”
Bosses previously said the likely date for the pair to be able to breed is between mid-March and mid-April, and a team of experts from China arrived this month to monitor the animals and provide advice.
Female pandas ovulate just once per year and are then only fertile for two days afterwards.
While obviously thrilled with the developments, Mr Valentine also sounded a note of caution to those expecting the pitter-patter of tiny giant panda paws any time soon.
He said: “We’re very excited, but it’s important to remember that with animals and nature it doesn’t always go to plan.
“There are all sorts of hurdles to get through yet. Tian Tian may not ovulate as it’s not unheard of for pandas to miss a year, or the pandas may not mate naturally – who knows?
“We’re hopeful, but it’s just a case of being ready for all eventualities.”