Look who’s getting in the mood for love?

February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment


The giant panda breeding season might be earlier this year, as both Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) have already started to show important changes in their behaviour that indicate that they will soon be ready to mate and it could be as little as four weeks away.

Yang Guang has been seen doing handstands and performing gymnastics against trees, walls and rocks, by going upside down on his front paws and scent marking as high up as possible. In the wild males compete to show female pandas how fit and virile they are, with the ‘best’ male being the one to scent as high as possible. Check out this footage of him scent marking below on our YouTube channel.

Tian Tian has also started calling out to Yang Guang. Normally giant pandas are pretty quiet outside of breeding time, but both the males and females bleat and call to one another during breeding season.

In 2012 Tian Tian came into season on 2 April and although it is impossible to tell exact timings this early on, our specialists are predicting breeding season could fall somewhere in the month of March. Our experts are able to predict when both giant pandas are ready to breed by a combination of behavioural observation and hormone testing, but to date no hormonal changes have been seen in either panda.

This year we are focusing on synchronising the breeding cycles of both pandas with a strict “lights out” policy.  From the 1 January lighting levels inside both panda enclosures were timed to stimulate natural light levels outside, so when the sun comes up lights will go on in the panda enclosures and when the sun goes down it’ll be lights out and early to bed. This is vital as lighting levels dictate panda hormone levels.

fb_yang_guang_indoor4_jpwebWe will also be using urine tests to monitor the all-important hormone levels. This started on a daily basis with Tian Tian at the turn of the year. However this year we will also be testing the male’s hormone levels as part of our vital research into male panda reproduction. His urine samples will be banked and tested after the breeding season.

At the start of February we began swapping enclosures, with Tian Tian exploring Yang Guang’s territory and vice versa, to which both pandas responded enthusiastically. A very important technique as chemical cues and signals play a major role in breeding. Giant pandas are solitary animals and are very much dependent on scent marking as a means of communication between them. Enclosure swapping will continue and increase in frequency right up until the peak of the season.

Yang Guang also has an increased appetite for bamboo and will shortly start to enhance his body size as male pandas need to be in peak physical shape during breeding season.

So with all this in mind, panda breeding season shouldn’t be too far away.

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