Tam's Tall Tales

- Spring Romance in Edinburgh Zoo?

Panda Tian Tian in Edinburgh Zoo - Picture via Wikimedia

Tian Tian, is the UK's only female giant panda and is currently ensconced in custom made quarters in Edinburgh zoo (entrance pictured here). Each year she and her male partner Yang Guang munch through 70,000 worth of bamboo flown in from a plantation outside Amsterdam.

It is the mating season for the Edinburgh pandas. Perhaps the term "season" is too strong for a 36 hour window when the conditions are propitious for the celebrity coupling.

Unfortunately the omens are distinctly mixed for the briefest of spring flings. Last year the news organisations ran hourly "Will they, won't they?" updates on the amorous couple's chances of producing a cute wee baby panda. In the event the lady panda's tail was an obstruction and despite human intervention, including the use of a broom handle, no cub was forthcoming.

Another year, another rash of hormone tests and the couple continue to disappoint. Despite a rash of scientific tests indicating that the pair were primed, they certainly were not ready to go and the keepers decided to keep them apart.

In the event, the less glamorous intervention of artificial insemination has been used and we are all keeping our fingers crossed that there will be a cuddly wee cute arrival in due course.

Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: "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, which meant her breeding window could be much shorter.

"Although our Chinese expert Dr Wang Chengdong, from the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas, was confident the pair would mate naturally, after the first unsuccessful introduction attempt, time restrictions meant we needed to move quickly." The two pandas arrived from China in December 2011 and have proved to be a big attraction for Edinburgh Zoo

Tam O'Ranter
May 2014

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