Pandas' brief encounter fails, but the ducks did it

Once Tian Tian had ovulated, which occurs only once a year, she had just 36 hours to get pregnant
  • @mjpmccarthy

Making beautiful babies is clearly more of a problem for giant pandas than for rare ducks. Britain's panda pair, Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo, ran out of mating time yesterday as their much-hyped but limited breeding season drew to an unsuccessful close.

At the same time it was announced that the world's rarest duck, the Madagascar pochard, had produced 18 ducklings in captivity in its native land – an achievement hailed as an "incredible step forward" in saving the bird from extinction.

The two pandas had been brought together this week when it became clear that Tian Tian, the female, had ovulated – an event that happens only once a year – leaving her a mere 36 hours in which to get pregnant.

The animals met in a "tunnel of love" between their two enclosures, but despite showing much mutual interest, wrestling, grunting and climbing over each other, they did not manage to complete the full baby-panda manufacturing process.

"Each time the pair met we saw a huge amount of eagerness and attraction between Tian Tian and Yang Guang," said Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo. "There was lots of vocalisation and encouragement from our female, and physical contact between the two. He mounted her several times, but full mating did not occur."

He added: "We are hugely encouraged by how much the natural sparks flew between the two animals, as, like humans, not all male and female pandas are attracted to each other.

"Both of them were keen to mate, but their inexperience showed."

By contrast, there was no stopping the tiny group of ducks in Madagascar, which until recently had been thought extinct.

In a conservation project involving Britain's Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, a worldwide charity, birds that hatched from eggs produced in captivity, after a tiny group was rediscovered, have now themselves bred, producing 18 ducklings that are being reared at a special conservation centre.

"The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction," said Glyn Young, a Durrell biologist.