Keepers to use panda suits to rear cubs

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Keepers could use the panda suits to trick cubs into thinking they are their parents

KEEPERS could dress up as pandas if the Edinburgh Zoo bears produce cubs.

The disguise would be used to trick baby pandas into thinking the human carers are their mother.

And it’s hoped the move would allow the offspring of the Chinese visitors to be successfully reintroduced into the wild.

The panda’s head keeper, Alison Maclean, was shown the technique when she visited the Sichuan province of the country to watch baby pandas being released.

Chinese keepers don the suits to allow them to check on their young charges – and even feed them milk as they work to rebuild the wild panda populations.

Dressing up means the bears don’t become too used to humans and gives them a better chance of survival in the wild.

Scots keepers hope Tian Tian and Yang Guang, who have both bred before, will produce twins during their 10-year Scottish visit, adding to the dwindling numbers in the wild.

Almost half of all pregnancies in the black and white animals results in twins but the mother is only able to care for one and in captivity the other is often reared by hand.

The panda suit plan is revealed in a TV documentary, narrated by Scots actor Davit Tennant, on Wednesday night.

Speaking on the programme, Maclean said: “If we were raising a baby there’s a lot of options open to us and the guys here for the pre-release training wear a panda suit so the panda baby never sees a human being. You don’t want them to get used to humans.

“One of the things we have learnt is that from a very young age mum leaves the baby alone, and for the moment some of the babies that are born here [in China] only come to her for milk and than they are off on their own.

“So if they come to you for milk and you’re in a panda suit, as far as they are concerned you are mum and you’re a panda.”

Colic

The zoo has a special facility to incubate two babies if the pair, whose names mean Sweetie and Sunshine, produce twins.

But because female pandas are only fertile for two or three days a year the keepers could resort to artificial insemination in a bid to produce cubs.

Last week the second panda was taken off display after developing colic.

Tian Tian was treated for the condition on Saturday after her male companion was diagnosed with the condition earlier this month.

However he is said to be improving and is expected to be back on display tomorrow.

A spokeswoman for the zoo said: “Tian Tian has been under the weather. One of our vets has been to visit her and suspects she has a bit of colic, similar to Yang Guang but much milder.

“She is being allowed time to relax privately away from public view. Yang Guang is expected to go back on public view on Monday.”

Colic is a common condition that affects around one in five human babies.

It’s unknown what causes the condition and the most common symptom of colic is excessive crying even if the child appears to be healthy and well-fed.

The pandas arrived in Scotland on December 5 after years of planning and a 5000-mile flight fromChina.

They went on show to zoo visitors for the first time on 16 December.

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