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Zoos SA monitor Giant Pandas during annual breeding season

Zoos SA monitor Giant Pandas during annual breeding season
September 24, 2021

The Zoos SA team are monitoring Adelaide Zoo’s Giant Pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, during the annual breeding season especially with COVID-19 travel restrictions preventing a reproductive specialist from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda from travelling to Adelaide this year.

Zoos SA are therefore focussed solely on allowing ‘nature to take its course’ and won’t be proceeding with any artificial insemination procedures.  

Researchers are learning more about Giant Panda breeding every year, which is vital for the survival of this vulnerable species.  Wang Wang and Fu Ni arrived at Adelaide Zoo in 2009 and this year marks the seventh genuine attempt at breeding.  

The keepers working closely with the pair and monitoring them throughout the year have noted heightened activity, tree climbing and scent marking – all pointing to Fu Ni and Wang Wang being ready to enter breeding season.

Zoos SA Chief Executive, Elaine Bensted notes “Our 15-year-old female Fu Ni and 16-year-old Wang Wang are both showing typical breeding season behaviours. It’s a very exciting time of year for us all as we wait with baited breath to see if they mate.  

“All the signs are looking good. They have been pacing, producing multiple scent-marks and Fu Ni is climbing the tree in her exhibit. All of these signs point to the fact that they are within days of their annual breeding season. All we can do now is hope that nature will take its course.  

“Panda fertility is an extremely complex, delicate and short-lived window of opportunity to say the least. In fact, Fu Ni’s window of fertility lasts less than 48 hours and occurs only once a year.”

Adelaide Zoo Director, Dr Phil Ainsley adds “last year’s attempt at solely natural breeding was extremely positive and we hope that the learnings made from last year will continue this year. 

“As much as we would love to see a cub born at Adelaide Zoo we must remember that Giant Pandas have such a unique reproductive biology, it can be extremely difficult for them to become pregnant and even more difficult to retain a pregnancy through to the birth of a cub.  

“The fact that it is so difficult to become pregnant and to keep a cub through to birth is one of the reasons they are vulnerable to extinction with less than 2,000 remaining in the wild.   

“Giant Pandas are naturally solitary in the wild and only come together to breed. Fu Ni and Wang Wang usually reside in separate exhibits in Adelaide Zoo’s Bamboo Forest to replicate this, but in an effort to build on behaviours that we observed last year, will be spending a number of days together in the same space during this year’s breeding window. Timing is everything.  

“Our keepers monitor the pair throughout the year and are expert at noticing tell tale signs that speak of their readiness to breed.”  

However, Dr Phil Ainsley points out that breeding is just the start of the complexities when it comes to Giant Panda fertility adding “If Fu Ni does become pregnant it won’t be until around two weeks before she is due to give birth that Zoos SA will find out. It’s only possible to confirm a Giant Panda pregnancy via ultrasound when the foetus is big enough to be seen and only if the female remains compliant with the procedure.

“Our keepers have a special bond with both Giant Pandas that allows them to practise activities that will occur during a procedure.

“We are very happy to let nature take its course again,” confirmed Zoos SA Senior Veterinarian Ian Smith.

“Although artificial insemination has played a big part in Giant Panda captive breeding around the world in the past it in no way guarantees a pregnancy or birth.

“Having Fu Ni and Wang Wang at Adelaide Zoo is not just about trying to produce a cub. The research that we conduct and contribute to is all going towards a global understanding of panda reproduction and hopefully, increasing the birthrate of Giant Pandas around the globe,” said Smith.

 External support teams will also be on hand to assist Adelaide Zoo, including reproductive specialist sponsor Repromed.

Smith advised “once Fu Ni’s oestrogen and progesterone levels are right, we’ll know she has recently ovulated. We would hope to see mating around this time.”

The expected gestation period for a Giant Panda is between 120-140 days and has been documented lasting up to 365 days as the delayed implantation of the foetus varies.

From tomorrow (Saturday 25th September) and during the entire breeding time the Bamboo Forest precinct, home of Fu Ni and Wang Wand and the Red Pandas, will be closed to all but necessary staff and to members and visitors. A Giant Panda keeper talk will be held in the Orientation Zone which could well include sightings of Fu Ni up the tree.  

Adelaide Zoo’s Giant Pandas are proudly supported by organisations that recognise the significance of Giant Panda conservation. This includes our major partner AGL who help us to care for Wang Wang and Fu Ni, and Repromed, who are our Clinical Support Sponsors.

Image: Zoos SA panda Funi Credit: Adrian Mann 

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