The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has confirmed artificial insemination has been carried out on Tian Tian, the female giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo.
According to society staff, the female and her male mate, Yang Guang, were both showing “positive signs” as the breeding window opened a couple of weeks ago. However, Tian Tian’s hormones started to fall quickly, meaning intervention was necessary. She was inseminated on April 13 after unsuccessful introductions between the pair.
Director of giant pandas for RZSS Iain Valentine said: “Although it often varies from year to year and from panda to panda, this spring Tian Tian came into oestrus 13 days after the crucial hormone crossover, while last year she took us to day 14.
“From the start, when the pandas started to show breeding behaviour early this spring, both were showing very positive signs. We were hopeful natural mating would occur this year, but in the end Tian Tian’s hormones started to fall quickly.”
The procedure was carried out by reproduction specialists including Thomas Hildebrandt, Frank Göritz and Robert Hermes, along with RZSS’s veterinary and panda teams. Samples were used from Yang Guang only and both pandas have recovered well from the procedure.
“[Both] were up and about shortly after,” said Mr Valentine. “In fact, Yang Guang was enjoying honey and bamboo some 15 minutes later.
“The panda enclosure will remain closed to the public until April 16, but both pandas have been out and about, are eating well and are in good health.
“As giant pandas experience pseudo pregnancies and delayed implantation, it is very likely we will not know for sure if Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth. This is usually August to September, but can continue much later, as we saw last year.”
Tian Tian was also artificially inseminated in 2013 and, despite falling pregnant, it is thought she reabsorbed the foetus late term – a common occurrence in giant pandas.
Chris West, chief executive of RZSS, said the society feels giant pandas are “too important a species” to be allowed to become extinct.
“Although the breeding window is incredibly brief, pandas are in actual fact not poor breeders,” he said. “They existed on the planet for many millennia before man intervened and deforestation caused the increasing fragmentation of populations.
“As a result of a partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, we are bringing our skills in genetics and animal husbandry to ensure a genetically healthy and diverse population exists ex-situ, as well as in the wild.”
For more information, visit the RZSS website.