Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh Zoo pandas: Enclosure swap ahead of mating

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Media captionThe BBC's James Cook: "The big challenge is bringing them together at the right moment"

Keepers at Edinburgh Zoo have taken the first steps to prepare their two giant pandas for this year's breeding season.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian have been allowed to swap enclosures for a short time.

This lets the animals scent mark each others' accommodation ahead of being brought together.

Female pandas only have two days a year in which they can get pregnant. It is thought the pair could be ready to mate by the end of this month.

Edinburgh Zoo's most famous residents failed to mate during last year's breeding season but keepers believe they are now much more settled.

They said the pandas have been showing changes in behaviour and the signs from a brief accommodation swap on Tuesday were good.

The male, Yang Guang, explored the female's den carefully, doing a handstand to leave scent high on a tree, before being returned to his own enclosure.

Image caption Female pandas only have 48 hours in a year when they can get pregnant

The female, Tian Tian, also left her scent all round the male's outdoor pen.

Chris West from Edinburgh Zoo said a panda cub would be a huge draw for visitors.

"They are just the cutest animals imaginable," he said.

"I think people would come from far and wide to see the first panda cub born in the United Kingdom - that would be tremendous.

"But for me it is about conservation and I would see that we could use the benefit of that to help support, for example, Scottish wildlife."

In 2012 female Tian Tian came into season on 2 April.

The giant pandas, who are both nine years-old, were introduced to each other on five separate occasions. They made several attempts but no successful mating took place.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang have both bred before, although not with each other.

They arrived in Edinburgh from China in December 2011.

If they breed successfully there is a possibility Tian Tian could have twins. Any cubs would remain in Edinburgh for two years before the pandas are returned to the Chinese.

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