Zoologists monitor panda, as protein analysis suggests cub is on the way

27 Aug 2013

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Female giant panda Tian Tian. Image via Rob McDougall via Edinburgh Zoo

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Panda cub watch has begun in earnest at Edinburgh Zoo. That’s because the female giant panda Tian Tian who lives in the zoo appears to be expecting, based on hormone test results using protein analysis techniques. We could be seeing a new panda, or indeed twin pandas, emblazoned across media channels within the next few weeks.

Zoologists and scientists at Edinburgh Zoo have been using separate acute protein analysis techniques that have been pioneered by Memphis Zoo, and built upon by zoologists at Washington Zoo for the panda population there.

Earlier this month, Siliconrepublic.com reported on Tian Tian’s condition. At the time, zoologists at Edinburgh Zoo, which comes under the remit of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), were unsure whether Tian Tian was indeed expecting a cub, or experiencing a pseudo pregnancy, which can happen to giant female pandas.

As of yesterday, the scientists at the zoo are satisfied that Tian Tian may be pregnant, based on continued hormone analysis. So much so that four zoologists at the zoo are on 24-hour watch – including access to CCTV footage in their homes – to make sure that Tian Tian’s every need is catered for – if she is indeed expecting a cub. Incidentally, she is the UK’s only female giant panda. 

People are now on a mission to catch a glimpse of Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo, with animal lovers queueing up to see how Tian Tian is acting at the minute.

What are the signs?

Edinburgh Zoo said that if this panda is indeed pregnant and carries to full term, she will become increasingly restless. Other labour signs in such giant pandas include bleating and Tian Tian is also likely to lounge around more in her cubbing box.

As well as this, the zoo confirmed that Chinese panda keeper Haiping Hu, from the China Conservation and Research Centre (CCRC), arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday to lend her support if a cub or cubs are born over the next two weeks.

The zoo said that Hu has extensive experience in assisting with panda births, especially if twins are born and one cub has to be removed.

"What we are seeing in Tian Tian’s hormones is encouraging, but we still cannot guarantee a pregnancy or successful birth," explained Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the RZSS.

It seems that results from Tian Tian’s urine samples have been analysed by colleagues at Memphis Zoo and CCRC, with both parties remaining confident of a positive outcome.

Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com