Edinburgh panda enclosure unsuitable for breeding says expert

EDINBURGH Zoo’s panda enclosure is unsuitable for breeding and Tian Tian may not even have been pregnant, a leading expert claimed today.
Gareth Starbuck described the £275,000 enclosure as “sparse, has a lot of concrete, one token tree and no cover”.
The animal breeding expert at Nottingham Trent University said it was also a mistake for Tian Tian to be kept in sight of her potential mate as wild pandas live many miles apart.
Edinburgh Zoo confirmed its female panda was no longer pregnant, warning something was "amiss."
Edinburgh Zoo confirmed its female panda was no longer pregnant, warning something was “amiss.”
Dr Starbuck also claimed that the hormone testing of urine to confirm pregnancy is a flawed technique.
His remarks were backed by a Panda expert at San Diego Zoo, who agreed it was: “Unlikely that Tian Tian was pregnant.”
Dr Starbuck, 42, said: “It strikes me that the best way to get an animal to behave in a successful manner is to recreate their natural environment as best as possible.
“The panda enclosure in Edinburgh is sparse, has a lot of concrete, one token tree and not much cover. In the wild they have plenty of cover.”
Dr Starbuck also said the fact the male and female pandas could see each other from their separate glass-fronted enclosures was a problem.
He said: “We put them next to each other and expect them to mate naturally when in the wild they are miles apart and only come into contact when she is ready to mate.
“Why is she going to be interested in the boy next door?”
He said the zoo “knows that the enclosure could be better” but added: “Short of building a new enclosure there’s not really much they can do.”
A German scientist predicted Tian Tian would give birth on August 31st 2014
A German scientist predicted Tian Tian would give birth on August 31st 2014


Tian Tian was artificially inseminated on April 13 after she and her intended partner, Yang Guang, failed to mate naturally.

The Zoo announced in August that she was pregnant and could give birth by the end of the month.
It was confirmed earlier this week that there would be no cub.
“I think it’s possible that she’s not even been pregnant,” Dr Starbuck claimed.
“The hormone tests they are using and relying on are not 100% conclusive or reliable. I wouldn’t be sucking up urine with a syringe from the floor – there is so much that can go wrong with that.
“What would be ideal is to identify a hormone secreted by the embryo that ends up in mum’s urine – just like a human pregnancy test.”
2014 was the Zoo's third attempt at producing a panda cub
2014 was the Zoo’s third attempt at producing a panda cub
In July 2012, 20-year-old giant panda Bai Yin, gave birth to her sixth cub at San Diego Zoo.
The American Zoo has produced the most offspring at a breeding facility outside of China.
A spokeswoman from San Diego Zoo said: “Pandas do not struggle with pregnancy.
“They reproduce without difficulties if given what they need to do so.
“Artificial insemination has a very low success rate.
“So it is unlikely that Tian Tian was pregnant.
“We are unaware of any information indicating that a pregnancy had been confirmed through ultrasound visualization of the fetus.”
Dr Starbuck is an expert in animal reproduction and a principal lecturer at Nottingham Trent University.
He specialises in giant panda behaviour, reproduction along with captive and wild issues surrounding conservation.
A zoo spokeswoman said: “San Diego Zoo has never seen the scientific data generated surrounding Tian Tian’s pregnancy. We have worked closely with our Chinese colleagues and colleagues from other American giant pandas zoos to analysis the data and they all concur with our findings that Tian Tian was pregnant.”
She added: “Edinburgh Zoo’s panda enclosures were designed in collaboration with Chinese experts who are the foremost authority. Both pandas have large separate outdoor enclosures that contain grass, many trees, large climbing frames, ponds and caves.
“Although pandas are solitary animals, Chinese experts say it is important that male and female pandas understand there is another panda of the opposite sex close by.”