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Panda Eyes Focused as Yang Guang and Tian Tian Seek Each Other Out in Edinburgh

February 21, 2013

pandaSam Jones, The Guardian, February 21, 2013

As is the case with its occasionally more subtle human counterparts, it seems that in the spring a giant panda's fancy turns to thoughts of love. Photographs from Edinburgh Zoo on Wednesday suggested that the UK's only male giant panda, Yang Guang, was keen to get cracking.

Were his sorties to the gate of the enclosure of the female giant panda, Tian Tian, not proof enough of his intentions, he has recently begun to execute handstands against trees, walls and rocks, and to leave scent marks as high up as he can.

Having observed Yang Guang's displays of virility, experts at the zoo now hope that he and Tian Tian, or Sweetie, will very soon be ready to embark on the tortuous waltz that is giant panda mating. Yang Guang (Sunshine) is also bulking up on bamboo, boosting his daily intake from 36kg (80lb) to 49kg to reach the weight he'd need in the wild to cruise female territories and see off male rivals.

Tian Tian, meanwhile, has responded to his behaviour by calling out to him. He would do well to heed her invitation swiftly: female pandas ovulate only once a year, giving would-be fathers just 48 hours in which to get them pregnant.

Keepers can predict when both giant pandas, which arrived at the zoo from China in 2011, 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. They believe the breeding season will fall next month.The zoo – where the pandas have lived since they arrived from China in December 2011 – has done what it can to synchronise their breeding cycles, from introducing controlled lighting to getting them to swap enclosures.

Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas, and strategic innovations for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, believes his team is now on the right path.

"Although both giant pandas are showing these changes in their behaviour, it is still early days yet and way too early to give any accurate prediction on timings," he said. "However, early indicators do suggest the breeding season will probably fall in March this year. In reality we could be as little as four weeks away, although equally the big day could still be as far off as eight weeks."

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