Panda plans end in an anti-climax

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THE pitter-patter of tiny panda paws will not be heard in the enclosures of Edinburgh Zoo this year after the pair failed to mate, bosses announced today.

Although Yang Guang and his partner Tian Tian tried several times, the bears did not manage to successfully breed during their first year at the zoo.

Bosses admitted they got “very, very close” in the final session last night, but said the pair – also known as Sweetie and Sunshine – were still settling in after arriving at the attraction only three months ago. A spokeswoman said the panda team was considering allowing them together for one last attempt this morning, but admitted Tian Tian was already coming out of season as her hormone levels continue to drop rapidly. She has a single 36-hour window to conceive each year.

It is understood bosses decided not to try artificial insemination this year so that the bears could settle in.

They are now hopeful that a baby bear will be born in 2013, and said they were open to trying a combination of natural and artificial insemination the second time round.

They added that the bears had got on extremely well, sniffing and pawing each other and wrestling affectionately.

Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation, said: “Each time the pair met we saw a huge amount of eagerness and attraction between Tian Tian and Yang Guang. There was lots of vocalisation and encouragement from our female and physical contact between the two. However, full mating did not occur. Although both have bred before and have borne cubs with other pandas, they are both still relatively inexperienced.

“At the end of the day, this is year one of a ten-year conservation project here at Edinburgh Zoo.

“We are hugely encouraged by how much the natural sparks flew between the two animals, as like humans, not all male and female pandas are attracted to each other. Both were keen to mate, but their inexperience showed.

“Baby cubs would have been a bonus this year, but we have to appreciate that the pandas have only just arrived and have had limited time to settle.

“Overall, we remain very pleased with the outcome of the last few weeks and it has been a fantastic trial run.”