Never say no to Panda! Edinburgh zoo predicts baby for panda via protein analysis

9 Aug 2013

Tian Tian, female Giant Panda, pictured hanging out in Edinburgh Zoo in January 2012. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The news has broken from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) that a female giant panda by the name of Tian Tian who lives in Edinburgh Zoo may be pregnant, or experiencing a pseudo pregnancy. The zoologists have been deploying protein analysis techniques pioneered by Memphis Zoo to detect if the panda is expecting a cub. We’ve put together a short list of songs from YouTube to welcome this possible new baby panda into the world … Fingers crossed!

Although it is still early days, Chris West, CEO, RZSS, revealed last night that the zoo in Edinburgh is not ruling out that female panda Tian Tian could be pregnant.

West said that zoologists at Edinburgh Zoo said that they detected a second hormone rise in progesterone levels was in Tian Tian on 15 July, which was then confirmed on Wednesday (7  August).

It’s never just black and white with a panda …

Future Human

They believe that this protein analysis is an indication that the panda may be either pregnant or experiencing a pseudo pregnancy.

This means that in around 40 to 55 days Tian Tian will either give birth to a cub – or her false pregnancy will end.

If there is a cub on the way, it could be born between late August and early September.

To check out Tian Tian’s condition, West said the RZSS has been using separate acute protein analysis techniques that have been pioneered by Memphis Zoo.

Zoologists at Washington Zoo are also using this protein analysis on their pandas.

Edinburgh Zoo is home to the UK’s only giant panda population.

According to the RZSS, this protein analysis method, which it describes as ground-breaking, has only been used in a few female pandas around the world and has been refined further by RZSS.

West said, however, that this new protein-science technique for pandas, is too early to be classed as definitive or be relied upon.

What he did say, though, was that the results seem to suggest the profile of a pregnant panda that will carry to full term.

 Female giant panda Tian Tian. Image credit: Rob McDougall 
Female giant panda Tian Tian. Image credit: Rob McDougall

A bit more about Tian Tian

The female panda received artificial insemination. The team looking after Tian Tian has been monitoring the giant panda very closely over the last few months.

They think she has been showing signs of nesting behaviour. Although, it seems that both pregnant pandas and pandas experiencing a false pregnancy will exhibit such behaviour.

West said that an ultrasound did not prove possible as they are totally optional and Tian Tian chose not to participate.

“We cannot tell definitively at this stage if Tian Tian is pregnant or not, although we are seeing results that give us cause for encouragement,” he said.

“Tian Tian still may be experiencing a pseudo pregnancy, so it is important to remember that and there is still a need to just watch and wait whilst continuing to monitor her hormone levels.”

Don’t get too excited just yet, says zoo

It would appear that confirming a female panda’s pregnancy is never straightforward, however …

“We would encourage people to try not to get too excited just yet,” said West.

Waiting until mid-August for more hormone analysis

Apparently, further hormone results will be available roughly by mid-August that will add to the picture.

If Tian Tian is not pregnant, this means specific hormone levels should drop back down to zero.

It also seems that not being able to perform an ultrasound on Tian Tian is not really an issue.

“Not all ultrasounds detect if a female giant panda is pregnant or not and many are inconclusive, something that our American colleagues have been experiencing quite recently,” West explained.

“We much prefer to make the ultrasound optional for Tian Tian, and being the feisty female she is, she has decided she’s not up for it!”

Pioneering giant panda conservation science

The RZSS believes that its results from the analysis of Tian Tian’s hormones will “retrospectively” add to the collective worldwide scientific knowledge around such giant pandas and pregnancy

The panda team at Edinburgh Zoo is monitoring Tian Tian closely and the panda enclosure is open to visitors as normal.

Singer-songwriter and musician Jeff Buckley (1966-1997). Photo by: Marie Jerome via
Singer-songwriter and musician Jeff Buckley (1966-1997). Photo by: Marie Jerome via

Rock-a-bye-baby: songs to welcome a new panda into the world

Here’s a list of five videos has chosen from YouTube to welcome this possible new panda cub to planet Earth. Fingers crossed!

Henry Hall & His Orchestra performing The Teddy Bear’s Picnic in 1932. Any baby Panda worth its salt is sure to love this lullaby.

Never say no to Panda!
is a fun video created to market the Egyptian cheese brand Panda, featuring a quite scary panda! Might be a good one to calm down a boisterous baby panda as the Buddy Holly song True Love Ways features in the video.

Baby cub might also like to tune in to Mexican group Panda performing their song Los Malaventurados No Lloran (Unhappy Boys Don’t Cry) during an MTV Unplugged session in 2010.

Pandas like bamboos and honey so baby Panda could get a flavour of Bostonian Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (aka Aly Spaltro) performing Between Two Trees in 2010 accompanied by her Fender Jazzmaster guitar.

Incidentally, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper will be making her debut in Ireland when she graces the stage at this year’s Electric Picnic festival which kicks off on 30 August. Eighties fitness guru Mr Motivator will also be there for a marathon dance-off with festival-goers.

This magical, merry-go-round tune called Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin (I Don’t Know the End of It) was created by the late Jeff Buckley, son of classically trained pianist and cellist Mary Guibert and musician Tim Buckley.

Before he drowned in tragic circumstances while taking an evening swim in 1997 in a lake in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 27, the Californian-born Jeff mixed a poem and the French song of the same name by the late Édith Piaf to create this serenade that features on his band’s 1993 album Live at Sin-é. This song could prove to be a welcome night-time lullaby for a new baby panda 🙂

More about the zoo

Formally called the Scottish National Zoological Park, Edinburgh Zoo covers an 82-acre expanse in the Scottish city.

As for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), it appears to have was founded as a registered charity in 1909 by an Edinburgh lawyer named Thomas Hailing Gillespie,

Flash forward and, seemingly, Edinburgh Zoo was the first zoo in the world to host and to breed penguins. In addition, it is also the only zoo in Britain to house koalas and giant pandas.

Here’s hoping Edinburgh Zoo has some good news about a new cub for Tian Tian, and animal-lovers, based on its further protein analysis in mid-August!

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic