Edinburgh Zoo is gearing up for the stomp of panda feet after visitors were told staff are “pretty sure” Tian Tian is pregnant.
Keepers have been raising hopes that it will be third time lucky after she failed to mate with male panda Yang Guang in 2012 and lost a foetus late in pregnancy in 2013.
And after urine tests revealed she has successfully conceived following an artificial insemination in April, a major hurdle has been cleared in the zoo’s bid to add to its panda family.
If the embryo has successfully implanted into Tian-Tian’s womb, a baby panda could arrive as early as next month.
However, keepers won’t know for certain if Tian Tian is expecting until she gives birth.
Iain Valentine, director of Giant Pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “A technique called a CP test – ceruloplasmin to give it the proper name – was performed using urine samples at seven to ten days after artificial insemination in April and this indicates that Tian Tian has conceived. It is important to stress that this test tells us only that she has conceived, not that implantation has occurred, as pandas practise delayed implantation.
“At this stage the embryo is still in diapause or rest, so technically pregnancy has not occurred yet.
“There are many more significant developments still to happen. Tian Tian is in great health – very relaxed, at a great weight and eating well and keepers and scientists continue to monitor her.”
Panda expert Jeroen Jacobs said the positive test was “a good thing”, and made a pregnancy more likely.
He said: “She has conceived, but that doesn’t mean it’s sure that she is pregnant.
“It’s always a wait until the final minute, so it’s not certain that something will happen this summer in Edinburgh – but it makes it possible.
“It’s already a good thing, but it’s still early.”
Mr Jacobs said that because the artificial insemination was carried out in April just like in 2013, the pregnancy would be expected to come to term around the same time, in late August or early September.
“It’s very difficult to tell if a panda is pregnant because the embryo is so small,” he added. “The animal is so small when it’s born, so there is almost nothing to see [during pregnancy]. That’s the problem.”
Keepers will now be looking for signs of changed behaviour in Tian-Tian, particularly in terms of how she is nesting, but Mr Jacobs warned that “the signs of a real pregnancy and a pseudo-pregnancy are the same”.
He added: “I think betting companies could make a lot of money from that.”
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.