Zookeepers at Adelaide Zoo have become excited as the hormone levels of female giant panda Funi begin to rise indicating that she will soon be ready to mate. Keepers and veterinary staff are working round the clock at the moment to pin point the exact time to put the pandas together. Once they find that the right criteria have been meet the pair will come together to breed.
The Acting Senior Panda Keeper at the Zoo, Lucy Catt said over the past two weeks have seen significant changes in the panda’s behaviour, “Both Wang Wang and Funi’s activity levels have increased – Wang Wang is showing prolonged rutting behaviours (power-walking around the exhibit) and scent marking, while Funi is also scent marking, climbing trees and splashing in her water bowl.”
The pair have also been communicating she added, “They’ve also both begun bleating at each other, a high-pitched contact vocalisation used between pandas during the breeding season. In the coming days we expect to see this vocal exchange increase indicating ovulation is imminent and she’ll be receptive to Wang Wang’s advances.”
They’re even beginning to interact with each other, “Not only have vocalisations between the pair increased, they’re also spending more time interacting with each other at the mesh that separates their night quarters – these are exactly the behaviours we’d expect to see in the lead up to the breeding season, and expect introduction to begin in the next few days.”
Repromed’s Deputy Scientific Director, Dr Deidre Zander-Fox said that their team “will be working 24/7 over the next few days, keeping a close eye on the hormone levels to pinpoint the exact time of ovulation.”
An entire team of reproductive specialists there will be “testing daily urine samples to monitor Funi’s hormone cycle – looking for a spike in oestrogen levels, an early sign of ovulation.”
Dr Zander Fox said, “Our aim is to help people – or in this case pandas – achieve their dream of having a baby, so we’re excited to be able to offer our expertise to Adelaide Zoo for this project.”
The zoo’s vet Dr David MCLelland said that artificial insemination will not be used this year after being trialled last year.
Currently Wang Wang is not seen to be fit for the artificial insemination procedure. McLeland said “There are a number of factors that could influence Wang Wang’s semen quality. These include his age and general wellbeing – a recent episode of colic and his struggles with allergies over the last couple of months may have interrupted his build up to the breeding season. Sperm requires four to six weeks to develop in the lead up to the breeding season, so we suspect he may be a bit out of sync with Funi’s cycle.”
Due to this they have decided that it is not worth taking the risks of putting him under so they can perfrom the procedure.
The zoo also believe there is a better chance due to Wang Wang maturing better. “Last year staff observed more dominant behaviour from Wang Wang during his interactions with Funi, which we hope will increase the likelihood of a natural mating this year,” stated McLeland.
He added that “Natural mating has always been our preferred option for breeding pandas. This year, we feel it offers us our best chance of success given his semen quality may not be optimal. As we won’t need to anaesthetise the pandas to collect semen and to inseminate the female, we can maximise the time available for the still relatively young pandas to gain experience with natural mating during Funi’s extremely short window of fertility.”