Director of Giant Pandas Blog
January 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
Happy New Year!
It’s been a while since our last blog, but as this one coincides with the Chinese New Year beginning on the 31st January it’s only right that we wish all of our panda followers Xin Nian Kuai Le also. 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse that is often associated with love, romance and relationships…….so fingers crossed for Tian Tian and Yang Guang.
With panda breeding, there are several key things to remember. First, pandas are seasonal breeders, so light levels are important for them as this triggers changes in their body and in the bamboo on which they feed. Secondly, male pandas are in season for around four months of the year (from around mid-Jan though to mid-May) and during this time they will mate with as many female pandas in season as they can; well if the females and other mature males allow them to! Individual panda females are only in season for around 40 hours a year and they have a multiple mating strategy; in other words a female panda in the wild would be mated by several males during the 40 hours she was in peak season.
Therefore, when you are working with two pandas, as we are with Tian Tian and Yang Guang, we have to bring a fair amount of science to the table in order to improve Tian Tian’s chances of producing a cub. In effect, for the panda keepers at Edinburgh Zoo, the panda breeding season has already begun!
As of Christmas 2013, we again began to collect daily urine samples from Tian Tian; these are being picked up and analysed so that we can monitor two key hormones for breeding purposes – progesterone and oestrogen. So far, as we would expect, there is no big news to report regarding changing hormones level, but we are picking up and noticing quite a lot of behaviours associated with breeding in both giant pandas. Tian Tian and Yang Guang are already clearly showing an increased interest in one another and both pandas are fairly regularly seen scent marking now.
Both pandas are in good health, with Yang Guang especially looking excellent and now almost “pink” white, which is what you see in mature male pandas. We’re also seeing food intake increasing in both pandas as they seek to drive their body weight up and take their condition to the best it can be ready for breeding; all fantastic instinctive pre-breeding behaviours that we want to be seeing.
The weather we’re experiencing right now is also the best kind of weather for pandas – cold and bright, with a hint of snow to come. So if any of you are thinking about visiting the Zoo to see our two giant pandas, please do so, as it’s the best time of year to see them. Right now Tian Tian and Yang Guang are more active than usual and, if you are lucky, you may also see Yang Guang performing that famous “panda handstand” as he scent marks his enclosure!