An Edinburgh-based vet is going on a fact-finding mission to a panda sanctuary in China amid hopes that the Edinburgh Zoo pandas could be expecting.
Romain Pizzi jets out this weekend for the giant panda centre in Chengdu.
The specialist veterinary surgeon for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) at Edinburgh Zoo is due to arrive on Monday at the panda breeding research base for the fortnight-long visit.
Staff at the RZSS remained tight-lipped about the details of his visit.
A RZSS spokeswoman said: “Romain Pizzi is a specialist in keyhole surgery in animals, amongst other things. He has done a lot of other work with bear species in the far east.
“He is just going out to meeting our Chinese colleagues. It is simply a scoping visit.”
As well as working part-time at Edinburgh Zoo Mr Pizzi also works for the Scottish SPCA at their wildlife rescue centre.
Originally from South Africa, he has lived in Scotland for more than a decade and is the only vet in the UK to specialise in keyhole surgery on animals.
His skills have seen him feature on several TV series and be in demand across the globe.
He has performed operations on hundreds of creatures, including artificially inseminating a jaguar and carrying out pioneering surgery on on black bears that were rescued from illegal bile farms in Vietnam.
His China visit coincides with excitement at Edinburgh Zoo over a test which showed panda Tian Tian successfully conceived.
Keepers are hoping it will be third time lucky for her after she failed to mate with male panda Yang Guang in 2012 and lost a foetus late in pregnancy last year.
Vistiors were told last month that staff are “pretty sure” the panda is expecting after urine tests revealed she had successfully conceived following artificial examination in April.
But keepers won’t know for certain if Tian Tian is expecting until she gives birth, which panda expert Jeroen Jacobs said would most likely be in August or September.
Giant pandas Tian Tian, which means Sweetie, and Yang Guang, which means Sunshine, became the first to live at a UK zoo in 17 years when they arrived in December 2011.
The pair are on loan from China until 2021.