Love is in the air for the UK’s giant pandas — with frisky male Yang Guang doing handtsand’s as the mating season approaches.
Experts say Yang Guang (Sunshine) and Tian Tian (Sweetie) could be ready to mate within the next few weeks.
Amourous Yang Guang recently began doing handstands against trees, walls and rocks, and ‘scent-marking’ around his territory.
Shy Tian Tian, in an adjoining enclosure, has started calling out to him – common female behaviour during breeding season.
Staff at Edinburgh Zoo, where the pandas have lived since their arrival from China in December 2011, are trying to help the mood by using controlled lighting, urine testing for hormone levels and enclosure swapping.
The nine-year-old pandas were first introduced to each other last April, but they did not end up fully mating. Female pandas are in season for less than 48 hours.
Yang Guang is currently building up his strength. He normally eats 35kg of bamboo a day but has now upped his intake to 50kg and will be scoffing 100kg – day and night – as the breeding season gets closer.
He is now tipping the scales at 118kg. His maximum weight last year was 132kg.
Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas and strategic innovations for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “We’re delighted that both Tian Tian and Yang Guang have started to scent mark and call, both clear behavioural indicators of courtship and mating behaviour.
“Although both giant pandas are showing these changes in their behaviour, it is still early days yet and way too early to give any accurate prediction on timings. However, early indicators do suggest the breeding season will probably fall in March this year.
“In reality we could be as little as four weeks away, although equally the big day could still be as far off as eight weeks.
“This year we will combine both natural and assisted reproduction methods. This follows the best practice methodology adopted by other panda-keeping zoos around the world and gives our giant pandas the best possible chance of success.”