Hong Kong expecting first birth of a panda: Ocean Park

Giant Pandas Ying Ying (right) and Le Le chew on bamboo shoots at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. It's a pregnancy that's been a long time coming, and now, after years of trying, Hong Kong's beloved Ying Ying panda is finally expecting a cub.
Giant Pandas Ying Ying (right) and Le Le chew on bamboo shoots at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. It's a pregnancy that's been a long time coming, and now, after years of trying, Hong Kong's beloved Ying Ying panda is finally expecting a cub.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - It's a happy moment that's been a long time coming, but after years of trying, Hong Kong panda Ying Ying is finally expecting a cub, keepers said on Thursday (Oct 1), a first for the southern Chinese city.

The 10-year-old panda began showing signs of pregnancy in July, after several attempts - both natural and artificial - at insemination, said a spokesman for Ocean Park, where the animal lives.

In early September, China-born Ying Ying started eating less, sleeping more and displayed heightened sensitivity to sound and her surroundings, she added.

"After repeated ultrasound scans conducted in late September, it was confirmed that Ying Ying is carrying a foetus."

Her baby would be the first giant panda born in Hong Kong, and officials said they were "cautiously optimistic" about the pregnancy.

But - pandas being tricky animals - it's not a done deal yet, warned the park's vet, who said it was possible she could reabsorb or miscarry the foetus.

A team of specialists has been assigned to keep an eye on her and park managers are trying to make the mum-to-be as comfortable as possible.

"To provide Ying Ying with the best pre- and post-natal care, we have minimised noises and disturbances in her environment and extended our monitoring to 24 hours a day," said Suzanne Gendron, head of Zoological Operations and Education at the park.

Female pandas are only interested in mating for three days a year, and have a gestation period of three to five months.

If all goes according to plan, Ying Ying is expected to deliver in about one week.