Hopes are up for panda pregnancy at Ouwehands Zoo
Keepers at Ouwehands Zoo in Rhenen have detected signs that giant panda Wu Wen may be pregnant but, zoo staff warn, panda pregnancies are notoriously difficult to confirm.
Urine samples have shown Wu Wen’s hormone levels are rising and she will have to be monitored to see if she is really pregnant, the zoo told DutchNews.nl. Last year the animal had a false pregnancy which, the zoo said, is not unusual in pandas.
Wu Wen only considered Xing Ya as a mate last month although matchmaking attempts had been ongoing since 2017, the zoo said.
The animals’ enclosures were coated with their mate’s urine, for instance, and Xing Ya’s natural urges were stimulated by sound recordings of giant pandas in heat. He was also trained to strengthen his hind legs so he could perform the deed.
Ascertaining pregnancy in pandas is notoriously difficult because the fertilised egg can take a few months to reach the womb. The patter of tiny panda feet may not be heard for a while yet. The pregnancy itself takes between three and five months but there have been cases where the whole process has taken a whole year.
This time around hopes are up because Wu Wen seems to be building a nest. ‘She is spending more and more time in the birthing shelter, zoology manager José Kok told broadcaster NOS. ‘She’s taking bamboo shoots in there and is sleeping there as well.’ The baby panda, if it is on the way, will be tiny and blind and weigh only a few hundred grams.
Wu Wen en Xing Ya were loaned to Ouwehands Zoo in 2017 to participate in a breeding programme and will be staying until 2023. Any offspring can stay for four years before returning to China. Only 1,864 giant pandas are left in the wild.
Ouwehands may not be the only zoo to contribute to the panda population. In a Hong Kong theme park a middle aged pair of panda ‘rediscovered their mojo’ recently and mated for the first time in ten years ‘after finally enjoying a period of privacy thanks to the coronavirus lockdown’. The silence seems not to have made the difference for Wu Wen and Xing Ya who mated before Ouwehand was closed.
The pandas’ progress can be followed on the zoo’s webcam Pandasia.
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