EDINBURGH Zoo bosses have officially confirmed that Tian Tian, the UK’s only female giant panda, is definitely pregnant.
Iain Valentine, Director of Giant Pandas at the zoo, announced the exciting news this afternoon after saying yesterday they believed she might be.
Mr Valentine also revealed that panda experts from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China are making arrangements to visit Tian Tian following news of her pregnancy.
Yesterday it was revealed that Tian Tian was expected to give birth as early as today but zoo chiefs have since said that her pregnancy could run into next month.
The surprise news came to light through a freedom of information request showing correspondence between Edinburgh Zoo and the Scottish Government discussing Tian Tian’s progress.
Since then, hoards of panda fans have descended upon the zoo today in order to try and capture the rare moment.
If all goes to plan in Tian Tian’s pregnancy, her offspring will be the first giant panda cub to be born in the UK.
Sharing a video update from the enclosure today, Mr Valentine said: “Okay so we’re here at the giant panda enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.
“And we can confirm Tian Tian is pregnant but we can also say that today is not the day she will be giving birth.
“Her cycle will continue into September and we will be keeping a very close eye on all of her hormones and all her behaviours and our Chinese partners will soon be here to help us with that.
“So in the last six years, RZSS has contributed to over 30 different projects in three different provinces where you find Giant Pandas and therefore working with our international partners and the Chinese government, the Giant Panda has now been reclassified from endangered to vulnerable – which is very good news.”
Zoo staff today described their workplace as being “manic” since news broke yesterday about Tian Tian’s potential due date.
Visitor, Kathy Thompson, 66, from Springfield, Missouri said: “We were in Edinburgh and decided to come because of the panda news.
“It’s kind of exciting to be here. It would be amazing if it happened when we’re here. We’re raring to get in and see what we can.”
Jennifer Crosby, 28, teacher, from Hamilton, Canada,said: “We’ve come all the way to Edinburgh to see the pandas.
“We couldn’t believe it yesterday when we heard the baby pandas are due today. Hopefully it won’t mean that we won’t get to see the pandas as we have been really excited about it for months.
“We don’t get animals like this at home, although there are other bears – but they are not as cute as pandas and the kids are really excited about seeing them.”
And Gerrard and Louise McGlade from Stirling, said: “We have pretty much come today because of the panda news.
“We have been wanting to come to see the pandas for a while but yesterday’s news meant we had the fantastic excuse.
“Our wee son is two today so he’s hoping to have the same birthday as the baby pandas.
“The kids are over the moon to get to see the pandas. They have been talking about them for a while.”
Scottish Government officials and staff at the zoo discussed in late July that Tian Tian was pregnant and put her expected date as August 25.
Tian Tian, who arrived in Scotland as part of breeding pair with Yang Guang in 2011, was artificially inseminated for the fifth time late last year.
The decision to go ahead with artificial insemination came after the zoo decided there was now no prospect of Tian Tian and Yang Guang ever mating naturally.
Documents released under Freedom of Information yesterday (THUR), show that in late July this year Tian Tian’s pregnancy was “on track” and the mother-to-be is “doing real well”.
An email, dated July 25 2017, from Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas at the Royal
Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), to the Scottish Government, stated: “‘TT doing real well. As things are at the moment, she seems on track but I have shifted possible birth date to around 25th August.
“Will be able to be a bit more precise in a week’s time.
“So she is about 30 days out now and pregnancy proper has now begun in what we think is a 37 day pregnancy. See or hear from you soon. My best, Iain.’”
The two giant pandas arrived in Scotland in December 2011 and are rented by Edinburgh
Zoo from the Chinese government for ten years, costing an annual fee of around £600,000.
Panda experts at Edinburgh Zoo carried out the artificial insemination late last year after hormone monitoring revealed that Tian Tian hit peak oestrus levels.
It was the fifth time Tian Tian has been artificially inseminated and the move sparked renewed criticism from animal rights campaigners who accused the zoo of being more focussed on making money than the panda’s welfare.
Tian Tian had previously given birth to twins in China but all previous attempts to produce a cub at Edinburgh Zoo have failed.
However pandas can sometimes re-absorb the foetus during the course of the pregnancy.
In 2013, zoo bosses revealed how hormonal and behavioural signs had indicated that Tian
Tian conceived, carried a foetus but sadly lost it, late term.