Edinburgh Zoo panda Tian Tian 'may be pregnant'

Keepers say Tian Tian is not letting them perform an ultrasound test - but other signs are positive

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Edinburgh Zoo has said there are "strong indications" that its female giant panda is pregnant.

Tian Tian's hormone and protein levels, along with changes in her behaviour, suggest she may be expecting a cub, after artificial insemination in April.

Keepers will not know for sure until just before the panda gives birth, which could happen within a month.

A baby giant panda has never been born in the UK, but the zoo's Iain Valentine said: "Things are looking good."

Tian Tian and the zoo's male, Yang Guang, are the UK's only pair of giant pandas.

Start Quote

It's hugely exciting. There's never been a baby panda born in the UK”

End Quote Iain Valentine Edinburgh Zoo

They arrived in Scotland two years ago and are being rented by Edinburgh Zoo from the Chinese government for a decade for an annual fee of about £600,000.

The pandas, both of whom will turn 10 in the next few weeks, have twice tried and failed to mate naturally.

So in the early hours of 21 April the female panda was artificially inseminated.

Mr Valentine, director of the zoo's giant panda programme, said Tian Tian could have twins by different fathers, one of whom would be Yang Guang.

"We used two different males for the artificial insemination," he explained to BBC News.

"It's hugely exciting. There's never been a baby panda born in the UK."

According to the zoo, several indicators suggest that Tian Tian is pregnant.

Tian Tian The panda was artificially inseminated after failing to mate with Yang Guang

The first is a spike in the hormone progesterone which is measured by sending the panda's urine samples to the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.

It was first detected on 15 July and was confirmed this week.

"The hormone concentrations we measured in the urine sample from the panda increased," said Dr Martin Dehnhard at the Leibniz Institute.

"That tells me that she is pregnant or pseudo-pregnant."

A pseudo - or phantom - pregnancy is possible. These are extremely common in pandas, but Edinburgh Zoo is using a cutting-edge test to try to rule it out as a possibility.

The test has been developed by Memphis Zoo in the US. It measures a female panda's protein levels to give an indication of whether she is pregnant and likely to carry the cub to full term.

Start Quote

Results so far are very encouraging but we don't want to count our pandas until they are born”

End Quote Chris West Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

In Tian Tian's case the results appear to be positive, but the technique is relatively new and scientists are not yet confident enough to declare it 100% reliable.

However there is a third indicator of pregnancy: behaviour, and here too the signs are good.

According to Edinburgh Zoo, Tian Tian is off her food, she is moody and at various stages over the past few months she has been showing "nesting" behaviour.

A more solid indication would come from an ultrasound scan, although even that is not definitive as a panda foetus is tiny - at birth the cub weighs only 150g - and doesn't develop until the final days of pregnancy.

In any case, a scan requires a panda's co-operation and Tian Tian is not obliging.

"We're not going to risk the hand of our vet," Mr Valentine said, explaining why they have abandoned the idea.

It means they will not know for certain whether the panda is pregnant until a few days before a cub is born, which they estimate is likely to happen between 24 August and 10 September.

tian tian urine sample A urine sample taken from Tian Tian showed a spike in the hormone progesterone

Twenty-four hours before giving birth Tian Tian would be expected to become restless and start to bleat.

Two incubators will be on standby in the zoo's panda nursery in case she has twins.

Michael Livingstone, one of the panda keepers, said anticipation in the zoo would turn to elation at news of a cub or cubs.

"I think it'll just explode. I think there's going to be a very big buzz about it.

"It's such an exciting thing so I think it'll go off the scale."

If there are twins, or if Tian Tian is struggling to rear her cub alone, Mr Livingstone would be one of a team of four keepers who would provide round-the-clock care for the newborns.

In keeping with a Chinese tradition, any cub would be named 100 days after the birth.

It would be the property of the People's Republic of China and would be sent there after two years in Scotland.

Establishing a panda cub's sex is tricky and is usually not possible until the animal is between one and three months old.

Parentage would be established by a blood test at around the same time. As well as Yang Guang, the other potential father is Bao Bao, whose sample was frozen before he died at the age of 34 last year.

But is Tian Tian going to give birth?

"Results so far are very encouraging," said Chris West, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the charity that runs Edinburgh Zoo.

"But we don't want to count our pandas until they are born."

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    Details on the council website.

     
  79.  
    09:06: South-west Scotland Giancarlo Rinaldi South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

    More than 50 schools have been shut across Dumfries and Galloway as snows affected the region.

    It is mainly primaries and secondaries in the east of the region which have been affected.

     
  80.  
    Anyone for tennis?
    Tennis

    Ruth Davidson has tweeted about her excitement over Andy Murray: Hmmm..... FMQ prep Vs tennis..... #comeonandy

    Nicola Sturgeon was quick to take up the suggestion: @RuthDavidsonMSP I'm sure we could come to some arrangement - @kdugdalemsp?

    Suddenly consensus begins breaking out: .@NicolaSturgeon ok, I'll bring the snacks - let's use your office. @kdugdalemsp Kez, you in?

    And Kezia Dugdale agrees, it's time for tennis: @RuthDavidsonMSP @NicolaSturgeon yes, there in a minute, looking for the Pimms

     
  81.  
    09:00: A75 hazardous BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    #A75 partially blocked hazardous driving conditions, snow between B725 (Carrutherstown) and B721 (Newbie). A number of lorries are stuck

     
  82.  
    08:57: Scene in Dumfries BBC Reporter Bruce MacKenzie

    There is actually a lot of widespread disruption now. A lot of untreated back roads in the west of the region that are hazardous this morning.

    A lot of people telling me that they are getting to where they need to go, it's just taking them a lot longer.

    That seems to be the overall picture at the moment.

    We have had quite a bit more snow since just after 06:00 this morning - probably here in Dumfries another inch or so of snow.

    Quite a lot of snow lying on power lines. No reports of any power problems in the region at the moment, but that one that we will be definitely keeping an eye on.

     
  83.  
    08:55: Scene in Inverness BBC Reporter Kevin MacKenzie

    A little more snow has fallen since 06:00 this morning but police in Inverness are describing the roads across the north as generally "passable with care" - they have been no incidents reported so far.

    There's certainly quite a bit of snow on the route but roads all look pretty clear.

    While some schools are being closed across the Highland area, some of the bigger schools such as Charleston Academy in Inverness and Nairn Academy will open a little later due to weather affecting school transport.

    In Moray there seems to be no snow problems.

     
  84.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    #A75 btwn Annan and Carrutherstown - @ScotTranserv has treated E/B and now working on the W/B. HGV's still stuck in the area. #BeAware

     
  85.  
    08:49: Your pictures - snow in Scotland via Facebook

    Yolanda Preston posts: Believe it or not there's my car under there!

    Picture from facebook

    That's a lot of snow! Be careful in kilsyth as roads really slippy and not cleared and M80 moving slow! There's nothing in Stirling compared to Glasgow! Took me an hour to get to work this morning! ‪#‎traumatic‬

     
  86.  
    @nlcpeople North Lanarkshire

    Transport: no buses to Calderhead HS, McGregors bus to Glencryan School cancelled.

     
  87.  
    @argyllandbute Argyll and Bute

    Thursday schools update: Skipness primary school is closed today

     
  88.  
    08:42: 180 gritters deployed

    Speaking on Good Morning Scotland Transport Minister Derek McKay said: "There've been a few incidents overnight but they've been cleared and the traffic systems have still been working well.

    "Even at the moment, during typical peak hour traffic the road network is still flowing fairly well.

    "There is one issue at the M8 plantation eastbound but its still passable with care, and I think we've prepared very well for the weather and the snow.

    "With 180+ gritters out, we've worked very hard to prepare the roads for these conditions."

     
  89.  
    08:39: Ten mile tailback BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    Earlier accident #GW #M8 eastbound at plantation causing a ten mile tailback to erskine bridge.

     
  90.  
    08:36: Highland Council Steven McKenzie BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

    29 schools and nurseries shut in the Highlands. The closures involve 4,795 pupils.

     
  91.  
    08:34: Today's papers

    The decision by the Scottish government to announce a moratorium on fracking dominates front pages in The Scotsman and The National.

    Scotland's newspapers frontpages

    Elsewhere, the Scottish Daily Mail leads with the story of councils using anti-terror laws "to spy on dog walkers, tanning salons and shops selling fireworks".

    An axe killer walking the streets four years after being detained without limit of time is the lead story in the Daily Record. The Herald claims fee-paying students at the University of the West of Scotland are to be offered their money back if they fail to graduate.

    Read the full paper review here.

     
  92.  
    Call 0500 92 95 00 or text 80295 08:28: Morning Call BBC Radio Scotland

    After an advertising expert criticised over-reliance on traditional Scottish imagery such as kilts and bagpipes to encourage tourism, we ask:

    Are bagpipes and Nessie the best way to promote Scotland?

    And following a collapse in sales of Scottish potatoes last year, the Press and Journal are urging shoppers to buy as much Scottish and British produce as possible.

    Would you change your shopping habits to help Scottish farmers?

     
  93.  
    @nlcpeople North Lanarkshire

    B-Line buses to following schools cancelled: Braidhurst, Our Lady & St Francis, St Serf's PS, Keir Hardie PS

     
  94.  
    @ScotRail ScotRail

    NEW: We've got a broken down train between #Drumgelloch & Airdrie. Services through these stations may be delayed. More info soon.

     
  95.  
    @SouthLanCouncil South Lanarkshire

    Closure update (8.10am) - Coulter Primary School and Walston Primary School (no water in the area)

     
  96.  
    08:13: Public 'back police guns policy'

    Just over half of respondents have backed the routine arming of firearms officers in a study commissioned by a police body.

    Armed police

    The survey of 1,000 people by the Scottish Police Authority suggested 53% were supportive of the policy.

    Almost one in three said it increased their confidence in the police.

    In October last year, following growing criticism from politicians and civic society, Police Scotland decided to back down on the controversial policy

     
  97.  
    @scotborders Scottish Borders Council

    School buses run by Telfords in Hawick area cancelled - H05, H08, H10, H13, H19 #sbctravel

     
  98.  
    @AnasSarwar 08:10: Anas Sarwar

    I can confirm that Sarwar snr. has resigned as Governor of Punjab. An honest man, doing the honest thing. More details soon...

     
  99.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    #A90 E/B at Walnut Grove (near Friarton Bridge) - RTC blocking lane 1 & 2, traffic not moving and police are en-route #BeAware

     
  100.  
    #ScotlandLive 08:05: Snowy snaps on twitter

    Who has today's best snow pictures?

    The BBC's Laura Bicker(@BBCLBicker) was hard at work creating a snow angel late last night.

    Laura Bicker making a snow angel

    While BBC reader Mr D. Lamont(Demo_D3005) has also been making the most of the snowy weather, saying "Perfect #snow in #Kinross for #SnowCars".

    Snowy car on twitter

    Tweet us your pictures to @BBCScotlandNews.

     

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