The UK's only female giant panda may be pregnant, Edinburgh Zoo revealed today after Tian Tian was artificially inseminated in April.
ITV News Scotland Correspondent Debi Edward reports:
Tian Tian (meaning Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) arrived in Scotland from Ya'an reserve in Chengdu, China, on December 4 2011. They went on show to visitors for the first time on December 16.
It was hoped the panda would mate with her male counterpart at the zoo, but she did not display any interest in Yang Guang earlier this year.
The zoo launched a new and improved “panda-cam” so people across the world could watch the two giant pandas in the run-up to mating season in February.
However, to ensure viewers see the highest quality footage of the pandas, staff donned panda suits and roamed around the pen.
Digital manager of the Royal Zoological Society for Scotland (RZSS) Jon-Paul Orsi said that when “the time is right for the pandas to mate, it will be private and take place out of view of the 'panda-cams'”.
Pandas only ovulate once a year, so the pair had a 36 hour window to mate. Despite being brought together five times throughout one day, the pandas failed to do so.
A so-called 'love tunnel' between their enclosure was opened up to allow the bears to get together as zookeepers hoped to speed up the mating process.
Instead the pair wrestled inside their closure, "decreasing" the chances of producing babies this year, Edinburgh Zoo said.
Iain Valentine, director of Research & Conservation at the zoo said the attempted couplings had been "immeasurable" for the bears because they were both sexually inexperienced.
But despite the best efforts of staff at the zoo, the pandas ran out of time to mate as their limited breeding season drew to a close.
Hence in April, Tian Tian was artificially inseminated with frozen semen from another panda called Bao Bao who lived at Berlin Zoo.
Mr Valentine said:
However, after months of waiting, the RZSS has revealed that Tian Tian may be pregnant. A second hormone rise in progesterone was confirmed on Wednesday, which indicates she may be expecting a cub or experiencing a pseudo pregnancy.
If there is a cub, it could be born between late August and September.
Edinburgh Zoo said "not to get too excited yet" over the news as it is not certain, but that the "indications look good".
If the panda is confirmed as pregnant a Chinese expert will fly over prior to the birth and then remain at Edinburgh Zoo for the first few months of the cub's life.