Irritable panda carrying hopes of country

Female giant panda Tian Tian in her enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.
Female giant panda Tian Tian in her enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.
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THE female giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo is showing encouraging signs she may be pregnant, according to keepers.

There are indications Tian Tian could give birth to the UK’s first panda cub within weeks, zoo staff say. Changes in the levels of the panda’s protein and her progesterone hormone suggest her artificial insemination in April was successful.

Keepers have also noted behavioural changes such as a moodiness, lack of appetite, restlessness and nesting behaviour like making a bed of straw. Experts are being cautious because it has not been possible to carry out an ultrasound and the signs may also be symptoms of a pseudo-pregnancy.

Iain Valentine, director of the zoo’s panda project, told the BBC that the signs are “hugely exciting” because a panda has never been born in the UK. “Since the artificial insemination, which took place in April, we’ve been monitoring hormones and we’ve also been monitoring an acute protein in her urine. So we’ve got to a point where the profile that she has been building up over the last few months is looking quite promising.

“Now we have taken another step in that the progesterone levels have now increased, which means that we are into the last 40 to 55 days of either pregnancy or pseudo-pregnancy.

“On top of all that, all of her behaviours are now shifting as well, so the overall picture is looking quite good.”

A second rise in progesterone hormone levels was detected in Tian Tian on July 15 and confirmed on Wednesday, according to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the conservation charity that owns Edinburgh Zoo.

RZSS has been working with international experts to determine whether Tian Tian is expecting a cub. Scientists have been using new protein analysis techniques developed by Tennessee’s Memphis Zoo in the US.

Tian Tian and the zoo’s male, Yang Guang, are the UK’s only pair of giant pandas.