Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Panda is artificially inseminated at Edinburgh Zoo

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Media captionStaff at Edinburgh Zoo are hoping it will be third time lucky after giant panda Tian Tian was artificially inseminated

The giant Panda Tian Tian has been artificially inseminated by staff at Edinburgh Zoo.

The process was carried out on Sunday after attempts to bring her together with male partner, Yang Guang, failed.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said her hormone levels began falling before natural mating occurred.

Sperm from only Yang Guang was used. Last year Tian Tian was inseminated three times using samples from Yang Guang and another panda Bao Bao.

Bao Bao's sperm was frozen before he died in Berlin Zoo in 2012, aged 34.

Positive signs

Iain Valentine, Director of Giant Pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said: "Although it often varies from year to year and from panda to panda, this spring Tian Tian came into oestrus 13 days after the crucial hormone crossover, whilst last year she took us to day 14.

Image copyright Edinburgh Zoo
Image caption Tian Tian's hormone levels began falling before natural mating occurred

"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.

"The artificial insemination procedure was undertaken by reproduction specialists Professor Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, Dr Frank Göritz and Dr Robert Hermes, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, along with RZSS's veterinary and panda teams. Samples were used from Yang Guang only.

"Both pandas recovered well from the procedure and were up and about shortly after. In fact Yang Guang was enjoying honey and bamboo some 15 minutes later."

The panda enclosure will remain closed to the public until Wednesday.

As giant pandas experience pseudo pregnancies and delayed implantation, it is "very likely" it will not be known if Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth. This can happen in August to September but can continue much later, as we saw last year."

John Robins, of Animal Concern, said: "Any sheep farmer would have told the zoo not to breed from poor breeding stock.

"If the idea is to return giant pandas to the wild is the zoo going to create a new breed line of pandas which need to be followed around in the Chinese forests by a team of international scientists armed with anaesthetic darts and buckets of frozen sperm?

"Instead of subjecting Tian Tian and Yang Guang to these invasive procedures every year Edinburgh Zoo should stop the breeding programme and use the pandas to educate visitors to the reality of extinction.

"It is too late for the giant panda but other animals can be saved if we act now to save their wild habitat."

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