Edinburgh Zoo panda Tian Tian 'pregnant' (but it’s not black and white)

If she is expecting, her cub will be the first giant panda to be born in the UK

In the world of the panda bear, nothing is black and white. Amid media interest almost equal to that accorded to the royal baby, Edinburgh Zoo revealed its foremost couple could be expecting a cub – but also warned of the potential for another disappointing chapter in the tale of Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

Brought together after negotiations between the Chinese and British governments, then expected to mate as the world watched, the relationship between the UK’s only two resident giant pandas is one of false starts and failed romance.

While the female, Tian Tian, has two children from previous partners, her prospective mate Yang Guang was untested in the reproductive field when they were paired together earlier this year. After failed mating attempts when Tian Tian spurned Yang Guang, keepers at the zoo decided artificially to inseminate Tian Tian. In a blow to Yang Guang’s pride, they also used semen from a German interloper, Bao Bao from Berlin Zoo.

Tian Tian was also said to have been inseminated with Yang Guang’s semen, but the male bear will not be confirmed as the father of any cub until conservation geneticists test blood samples from a newborn to establish who its paternity.

In a further complication, if Tian Tian has twins, they could be brothers with different fathers.

In late June, eight weeks after she was artificially inseminated – shortly after the visit of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, coincidentally – the zoo revealed Tian Tian had displayed the first sign of pregnancy – her urine showed a first increase in progesterone.

Yesterday, it confirmed it had seen a second rise in progesterone on 15 July which indicated a “pseudo or real pregnancy”.

Iain Valentine, director of the zoo’s panda project, said the signs were “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,” he said. “On top of all that, all of her behaviours are now shifting as well, so the picture is looking quite good.”

Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. Keepers at the zoo believe that she may be pregnant.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has been using new protein analysis techniques developed by the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee to establish if Tian Tian is expecting.

Her urine samples are flown for weekly testing by Dr Martin Dehnhard of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. “The hormone concentrations we measured in the urine sample increased,” said Dr Dehnhard. “That tells me she is pregnant or pseudo-pregnant.”

Tian Tian at Smithsonian's National Zoo Giant panda exhibit  

A definitive indication of Tian Tian’s pregnancy could be provided by an ultrasound scan. But Tian Tian is said to be unenthusiastic about the idea. “We’re not going to risk the hand of our vet,” said Mr Valentine.  “Confirming a female panda’s pregnancy is never straightforward and we would encourage people to try not to get too excited just yet,” warned Mr Valentine. Further hormone results will be available roughly by mid-August.”

But any cub, or cubs, born to Tian Tian would not be British. According to the agreement thrashed out between the two governments in 2011, they would officially be the property of China and an expert from the country would be present before, during and after the birth.

Her offspring would be named 100 days after the birth, in keeping with Chinese tradition.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are rented from the Chinese government for a period of 10 years at an annual cost of around £600,000. Visitor numbers at the zoo are said to have doubled since their arrival.

Panda pregnancy: The indications

Protein Researchers have developed a test for an acute phase protein which increases in expecting pandas. The urinary protein, called ceruloplasmin, is thought to increase when a fertilised egg causes an inflammation reaction in the uterus, which triggers the protein’s appearance in urine.

Hormones The hormone progesterone initially increases once the animal breeds. Then a second rise occurs around the time that the embryo is implanted in the wall of the uterus. Tian Tian’s progesterone levels showed a sharp rise on 15 July, which was confirmed this week.

Nesting They will increasingly want to build nests. Experts warn these indicators can also be unreliable because female giant pandas can display these signs when not pregnant. Tian Tian, for example, has gathered straw together into a bed under her sleeping platform. In the wild, pandas would use wood chips, saplings, branches and bamboo.

Psychology Moodiness is said to be a symptom of pregnancy in giant pandas. Just as Tian Tian was “off her food” when she was ready to mate, the amiable bear, who enjoys playing football, has been observed by keepers to be unusually irritable.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, Spanish, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Account Manager, Spanish, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Account Manager, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

Electrical Technician

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Urgent requirement for Electrical Techni...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on