(27 Feb 2012 – Hong Kong) Ocean Park is happy to announce that Ying Ying, the 6-year-old female giant panda, is confirmed to be entering her estrous cycle for this year. Starting from 6pm today (27 Feb 2012), Ying Ying and Le Le will be put together for mating opportunities for 3 days, and the Giant Panda Adventure exhibit will be temporarily closed to the public during this period to minimize human disturbance on any mating attempts. This is the second mating season for Ying Ying and Le Le since they became sexually mature last year.
Dr. Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park, said, “We are very excited to see Ying Ying and Le Le entering their annual breeding season, with the possibility of a giant panda cub this year. Nevertheless, we recognize that there are many challenges along the way – according to our colleagues at Wolong, the first few mating seasons of the young pandas usually yield a success rate of only 30-50%. We will remain hopeful on Ying Ying’s situation but we must also be realistic. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with our partners in the Mainland, the State Forestry Administration, Sichuan Forestry Department, Wolong’s China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda as well as the Hong Kong SAR Government. We greatly appreciate the support they have given us.”
Ms Suzanne Gendron, Executive Director of Zoological Operations and Education, said, “Over the past two weeks, Ying Ying has displayed typical estrous behaviors such as increased water play, bleating, and restlessness. Physical examination of Ying Ying by the Park’s veterinarians, combined with her hormonal levels, further reconfirmed that she is entering her estrous cycle for this year.” She added, “Over the next few days, we will be watching Ying Ying and Le Le closely during their natural mating because there is the potential for one or both of the giant pandas to be hurt through aggression. This happens normally in the wild but we would prefer to minimize the risk of injury. Male giant pandas usually mature at seven years of age but we are seeing sperm production in Le Le already. Wolong expert has recommended that we should encourage natural mating during the course of the peak of Ying Ying’s estrus, and support with artificial insemination. We are hopeful of a cub to be born this year, as it will help us reach even more people to advocate about giant pandas and their conservation works.”
Dr. Wang Chengdong, Director of Veterinary Service of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Wolong, said, “We are glad to welcome Ying Ying’s breeding season and are excited to be a part of Ocean Park’s giant panda breeding efforts. Ying Ying and Le Le will be put together for the next three days, starting today, for natural mating. We may also provide assistance with the artificial insemination of Ying Ying to further increase the chance of fertilization.”
Dr. Wang added, “The pregnancy process of giant pandas is filled with surprises and uncertainties – implantation of a fertilized egg is usually delayed, leading to the pregnancy duration to range anywhere from 70 to 324 days. While Ying Ying may display bodily changes and hormonal levels which are indicative of a pregnancy, they are not conclusive measures and false pregnancies are often observed. A true pregnancy cannot be confirmed until around 2 weeks before birth by ultrasound. We are impressed with Ocean Park’s keeper and veterinarian teams for their professionalism and commitment, not just to the birth of a giant panda but to the conservation of the species in China.”
Suzanne stated that although giant panda breeding under human care has significantly advanced in the last decade, there is still a lot to study about their breeding process, especially pregnancy. It is important for Ocean Park to make use of its advanced husbandry behavior training skills to monitor Ying Ying's development in the next few months, thereby helping them to better understand and manage the breeding process. Throughout the process, Ocean Park will continue to closely work with Wolong expert and its conservation partners.
OPCFHK supported a Wolong's research study last year on how female giant pandas choose their mates during the breeding season, a two-year project aiming to help advance the knowledge of giant panda breeding.
Suzanne added, ”Ocean Park understands giant pandas are facing many challenges; however, we are confident that with the support from all our conservation partners, we shall be able to contribute to the giant panda conservation through advancing our knowledge of giant panda breeding, promoting conservation messages among our communities and engaging them to support the conservation efforts in the wild.”
Ocean Park will continue to update the public on the latest developments of Ying Ying as information becomes available.