Edinburgh Zoo pandas: Breeding blow as Tian Tian fails to produce a cub

Edinburgh Zoo’s female Giant Panda Tian Tian has failed to produce a cub despite being artificially inseminated for the eighth time.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 12:01 pm
Updated Friday, 10th September 2021, 12:12 pm

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But the sad news has not deterred the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) from its ambition to retain Tian Tian and her former mate Yang Guang.

The pair arrived in Scotland in 2011 and are due to return to China in December.

No cub again this year for Tian Tian.

Tian Tian has been naturally mated once and artificially inseminated eight times.

The pair were brought to Scotland as part of a conservation breeding programme but Yang Guang had both testicles removed in November 2018 after tumours were discovered by keepers.

Zoo bosses say that had Tian Tian delivered a cub or cubs she would have definitely remained in Scotland at least until her offspring were old enough to travel.

Despite Tian Tian now coming to the end of her reproductive life the zoo wants to extend their stay.

Edinburgh Zoo bosses want Tian Tian to stay in Scotland

It was thought that Edinburgh Zoo was set to return the pandas -which cost about £1 million to lease annually – to China amid financial pressures caused by the pandemic which meant the charity lost £2 million last year and borrowing £5 million to stay afloat.

Revealing the outcome of another disappointing breeding season, David Field, RZSS chief executive, said: “While we now know Tian Tian’s artificial insemination in April was not successful, it has been fantastic to see how wonderful and relaxed she has been this year which shows an incredible level of care from our charity’s expert teams.

“Giving Tian Tian the chance to experience pregnancy and parenthood is important for her wellbeing and provides a vital opportunity to express natural behaviours.”

Yang Guang is now infertile after suffering testicular cancer

Mr Field added: “Giant panda breeding is an amazingly complex, unpredictable process and every cycle has made it possible to carry out scientific research which has benefitted both Tian Tian and international efforts to protect the species over the past decade.

“We remain in discussions with our colleagues in China about Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s future at Edinburgh Zoo as our original ten year agreement ends in December. We still hope to extend their stay and will keep everyone updated.”

An RZSS spokesperson added: “After we shared news about Tian Tian’s annual health check and artificial insemination in April, she showed really positive behaviour right through the breeding season.

“While we now know the insemination was not successful, it has been fantastic to see how wonderful and relaxed Tian Tian has been this year which shows an incredible level of care from our charity’s expert teams. Giving Tian Tian the chance to experience pregnancy and parenthood is important for her wellbeing and provides a vital opportunity to express natural behaviours

“Giant panda breeding is an amazingly complex, unpredictable process and every cycle has made it possible to carry out scientific research which has benefitted both Tian Tian and international efforts to protect the species over the past decade.

“We remain in discussions with our colleagues in China about Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s future at Edinburgh Zoo as our original ten year agreement ends in December – we still hope to extend their stay.”

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY THE RZSS

Is Tian Tian okay and can visitors see her?

Tian Tian is doing really well and showing lots of very positive behaviour. Giving her the chance to experience pregnancy and parenthood is important for her wellbeing and provides a vital opportunity to express natural behaviours

As her cycle comes to an end, she’ll start to spend more time outdoors and in her visitor-facing indoor area towards the end of September. Tian Tian has access to areas away from public view so she can enjoy some peace and quiet if she chooses to.

Why did you artificially inseminate Tian Tian?

As well as being important for the international giant panda breeding programme, giving Tian Tian the opportunity to go through pregnancy and parenthood provides her with a vital opportunity to express natural behaviours and is fantastic for her overall welfare.

Yang Guang had both testicles removed in November 2018 due to the presence of tumours.

The artificial insemination (AI) procedure is very similar to what humans go through during IVF treatment and is carried out under expert veterinary care during Tian Tian’s annual health check.

Is there a chance she could have been pregnant this year?

There is no definitive pregnancy test for pandas and they can have pseudopregnancies, which mimic real pregnancies, so we can only be sure she has been pregnant if she gives birth.

Giant panda breeding is an amazingly complex, unpredictable process and every cycle has made it possible to carry out scientific research which has benefitted both Tian Tian and international efforts to protect the species over the past decade.

Does this mean the giant panda agreement will be extended or will Tian Tian and Yang Guang be going back to China in December when the contract ends?

The RZSS remain in discussions with colleagues in China about Yang Guang and Tian Tian’s future at Edinburgh Zoo as thje original ten year agreement ends in December – it is hoped to extend their stay and will keep everyone updated.

Would the agreement have been extended if Tian Tian had a cub?

Tian Tian at the very least would have needed to stay to raise any cubs until they were old enough to travel.

Why do you pay to have the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo and how much does it cost to take care of them?

Caring for Tian Tian and Yang Guang, including their food and overall healthcare, costs the RZSS – a charity – £35,000 each month. In addition, the agreement includes an annual payment of $1 million. This is often referred to as a loan payment when in fact this donation supports giant panda conservation, welfare and research in China.

Each visit to Edinburgh Zoo also supports conservation, research and education here in Scotland and around the world. You can help by joining RZSS as a member at edinburghzoo.org.uk/help

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