He might have the worst job in Scotland, but the man who keeps an eye on the pandas’ toilet habits is vitally important to bringing about bear cubs.
Tony Bradford, panda visitor team leader at Edinburgh Zoo, has to keep an eye on female panda Tian Tian every day to monitor when she urinates.
It was his diligent attention to the panda’s business which helped determine next Tuesday would be the ideal day for the pandas to mate, a notoriously rare event.
He spoke today of his ‘unglamorous job’, which involves watching the bears for much of the day.
Tian Tian relieves herself once in the morning, but Tony has to wait until later in the day to collect the next sample.
He said: “It’s not the usual job, that’s for sure- I think it’s the most unusual job I’ve ever had.
“The keepers are the experts with the pandas, but because they are so busy and because me and my team are in front of the pandas all day it made sense for one of us to keep watch, and it just so happens I got the job.
“Yesterday I was stood for about an hour-and-a-half waiting.”
He added that his job allows him to monitor other aspects of the bears’ behaviour, and spot clues as to when they might mate.
The first ‘sample’ is collected in the morning when Tian Tian wakes up.
The second can take hours to arrive.
He said: “Because we spend our day standing in front of the pandas we can see if they are doing something unusual.
“It can be little things, like Yang Guang going over to the mesh separating his and Tioan TIan’s enclosure or putting his paws on the fence, it all helps.
“This may be an unglamorous job, but we all feel that we will have played our part in helping them mate.”
The urine samples are rushed to Chester Zoo for chemical examination.
A zoo spokeswoman added: “Our courier leaves late morning to deliver the samples to Chester Zoo.
“This means we get the results that same day, and when the decrease in oestrogen occurs, our experts can make a confident recommendation that introductions should be made.”