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Ocean Park Welcomes Annual Giant Panda Breeding Season Ying Ying and Le Le Show Signs of Sexual Maturity

2011-03-19

(19 Mar 2011 – Hong Kong) Ocean Park is happy to announce that Ying Ying, the 5-year-old female giant panda, has been observed to display signs of sexual maturity and upon examination, is confirmed to be entering her estrous cycle for this year while Le Le also appears to be sexually mature.  Since Friday afternoon, Ying Ying and Le Le have been put together for mating opportunities, and the Giant Panda Adventure exhibit has been temporarily closed to the public to minimize human disturbance on any mating attempts.

Dr. Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park, said, “We are very excited to see Ying Ying growing healthily and reaching this important stage of her life, with the possibility of a giant panda cub with Le Le coming this breeding season. Nevertheless, we recognize that there are many challenges along the way between this first step and a cub – according to our colleagues at Wolong, the first mating season of the young pandas usually yields 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 in Beijing, Sichuan Forestry Department, China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda at Wolong 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 few 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, “Our keepers and veterinarians have been preparing for this day for many years, working side-by-side with the Wolong experts.  Over these 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. Should he not be successful in mating with Ying Ying, Wolong has recommended that we use artificial insemination each day in conjunction with the natural mating during the course of the peak of Ying Ying’s estrus. We are hopeful of a cub to be born this year, as it will help us reach even more people to tell them about giant pandas, learn to love them and support the conservation works of giant pandas and their wildlife habitats.”

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 were together yesterday afternoon for natural mating.  Last night, we provided 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 327 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 2 weeks before birth, at which point the fetus has grown to a size that is detectable 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.”

Although giant panda breeding under human care has significantly advanced in last decade, there is still a lot to learn about their breeding process, especially pregnancy. It is important for Ocean Park to make use its advanced husbandry behavior training skills to monitor Ying Ying's development in next few months to help us better understand the process to help improve the giant panda breeding management. Throughout the process, we will continue to closely work with Wolong expert and our conservation partners.

This year, OPCFHK is supporting a Wolong's research study on how the female giant pandas choose their mates during the breeding season to help advance the knowledge of giant panda breeding.

We understand 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.

We will continue to update the public on the latest developments of Ying Ying as information becomes available.