A pair of captive giant pandas have embarked on a rare mating weekend, although the hoped-for result of even rarer panda offspring is still too early to call, a French zoo has said.
Huan Huan, a female panda loaned by China to Beauval Zoo in central France, was “put in contact” eight times on Saturday with her partner Yuan Zi, the zoo said on Sunday.
Female pandas are only fertile 24 to 48 hours per year and, in the wild, usually give birth every two years.
But in captivity, the small window of opportunity thwarts most attempts at procreation because male pandas often seem to lose interest in the act or, lack of practice, don’t know how to do it.
But, it turned out that the Beauval couple were “cooperative and quite active” as they got together, the zoo reported.
Yuan Zi was “more comfortable with approaching and mating than in previous years”, while Huan Huan, in heat, was “very interested”.
Panda keepers and vets won’t hold their breath to be successful, as there is no guarantee of pregnancy even after several rounds of romantic activity.
But the team felt the performance “was pretty good” and praised the male panda who “made progress” since last year, according to the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Baptiste Mulot. “He has a better idea of what to do,” he says.
The zoo said that the female’s “high-pitched sounds” and the male’s “raucous” sounds give the encounters their rhythm, “which is normal and a good sign.”
But for good measure, the team added artificial insemination overnight with the help of German specialists who had flown in for the operation to briefly anesthetize the pandas.
Any pregnancy should be detected within two weeks, but even that wouldn’t necessarily mean success, as pandas often experience pseudo-pregnancies that fail to produce an embryo.
In 2017, Huan Huan gave birth to Yuan Meng, the first panda born in France, after artificial insemination.
Now grown to about the size of its mother, the young panda is this year to be sent to China where 500 pandas live in captivity and 2000 in the wild.