AS jobs in Edinburgh Zoo go, this one really takes the wee.
Tony Bradford, the panda visitor team leader, has been given the thankless task of keeping a close eye on Tian Tian’s toilet habits.
But while head “wee watcher” could be a contender for the worst job in the world, it is a vital step to ensuring the pitter patter of tiny panda paws.
With just a 36-hour window when Tian Tian is fertile, zoo bosses know they will have to move fast if she is to successfully mate with Yang Guang.
After daily testing revealed that Tian Tian’s oestrogen levels had begun to rise, pointing to next Tuesday being the magic day, experts said that two samples would be needed each day.
The first is collected when the panda wakes. The second can mean a lot of waiting and watching for Tian Tian to relieve herself hours later.
“Its not the usual job, that’s for sure – I think it’s the most unusual job I’ve ever had,” said Tony.
“The keepers are the experts with the pandas, but because they are so busy and because me and my team are in front of the pandas all day it made sense for one of us to keep watch, and it just so happens I got the job.
“Yesterday I was stood for about an hour-and-a-half waiting.”
Both samples are rushed to experts at Chester Zoo, who can examine them and give the zoo a detailed recommendation on exactly when to introduce the two pandas to each other.
A zoo spokeswoman said: “Our courier leaves late morning to deliver the samples to Chester Zoo. This means we get the results that same day, and when the decrease in oestrogen occurs, our experts can make a confident recommendation that introductions should be made.”
As well as watching for “samples”, Tony and his team will also be playing an important role in monitoring the behaviour of the giant pandas, which could reveal telltale signs that they are getting ready to mate.
Yesterday, the pair were reported to be doing very little, perhaps to conserve energy for mating, although it was admitted the unseasonal temperatures may have had something to do with it.
It is keeping a sharp eye on these changes that Tony believes can help the experts successfully breed the pair.
“Because we spend our day standing in front of the pandas we can see if they are doing something unusual,” he said.
“It can be little things, like Yang Guang going over to the mesh separating his and Tian Tian’s enclosure or putting his paws on the fence, it all helps.
“This may be an un-glamorous job, but we all feel that we will have played our part in the helping them mate.”
Nose prayers rub things up the right way
WHILE the signs are good, keepers at Edinburgh Zoo know they will need a little bit of luck if they are to successfully mate their two giant pandas.
So they will be delighted to hear that visitors are praying for a baby bundle of black and white joy.
A giant panda statue created for the enclosure has now been transformed into a sort of fertility shrine, with visitors rubbing its nose and saying a blessing for the duo.
The strange ritual started several weeks ago, when a young girl getting her picture taken by the popular statue started rubbing its nose. When her mother asked what she was doing, she replied: “I’m wishing for a baby panda.”
The story has since been passed on among visitors, who are keen to follow suit.
Tony Bradford, panda visitor team leader, said: “It’s always been very popular with visitors, as it’s the last part of the enclosure and so everyone wants to get their picture taken with it.
“Now, though, they are all touching its nose and wishing for a baby panda. It’s quite incredible. It shows just how much people are hoping for a baby.”