Thoughts move to next Panda mating season as breeding attempts fail

Tian Tian must build up her strength again
Tian Tian must build up her strength again
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IF at first you don’t succeed — try, try, try again.

Edinburgh Zoo’s Giant Pandas are to swap enclosures ahead of next year’s mating season as experts work out new ideas to increase the pair’s chances of creating a baby.

There will be no pitter patter of tiny panda paws this year, with plans to give the panda pair one last chance to mate dropped yesterday after tests showed that Tian Tian’s 36-hour ovulation period had passed.

Keepers said the change was visible, with both pandas no longer calling out to each other and generally seeming disinterested, a stark contrast to just a few hours earlier when they were wrestling and playing together.

But despite the disappointment, experts are hopeful that the lessons learned this year will help them to successfully breed the pair next year — and they have already started working on plans.

It is expected that the pair will be swapped between enclosures intermittently for up to a month before the breeding season begins, in the hope that the exchange of scents might better get them in the mood for the all-important date.

The exchange was recommended by Dr Tang Chunxiang, assistant director and chief veterinarian of the Bifengxia Panda Base in China, who travelled to the Capital to oversee the attempted breeding.

A zoo spokeswoman said: “This year, we swapped Tian Tian and Yang Guang’s enclosures a few days before mating began, and it was quite clear there was a huge response from the animals. We are now looking at doing that again next year and starting a lot earlier, maybe a few weeks, as it is hoped that would help them respond to each other when they are introduced.

“The idea initially came from Dr Tang, and he has now suggested starting earlier.”

Breeding giant pandas is notoriously difficult, with the females only able to conceive for 36 hours every year, and it had been suggested the zoo would attempt artificial insemination this year if natural breeding did not happen.

In the end, however, it was decided not to interfere with nature — partly due to the animals still settling into their new home and also because of the encouraging signs from both Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

For Tian Tian and Yang Guang however, it is now about getting back to their normal routine. The solitary animals were said to be relaxing yesterday, and looking to build their strength up again.

A zoo spokeswoman said: “Tian Tian is just eating lots of bamboo, as when she was in season she didn’t really eat that much at all so obviously it has taken quite a lot out of her. She will be looking to build up her strength again.

“Yang Guang has been doing the same, although for him it’s a return to the normal routine.”

The zoo also confirmed that Dr Tang would be returning to the Capital every year throughout the panda’s ten-year stay, to oversee attempts at breeding.