All eyes now on giant panda Jia Jia for signs of SG50 cub

Giant panda Jia Jia eating her birthday cake.
Giant panda Jia Jia eating her birthday cake.ST PHOTO: SEOW BEI YI

SINGAPORE - More than four months after giant panda Jia Jia was artificially inseminated, it is still not clear if she is pregnant.

Ultrasound scan results so far have been inconclusive, said Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) at a media conference today (Sept 3).

Jia Jia, who celebrates her seventh birthday today at the River Safari, was artificially inseminated on April 18, after a mating attempt with panda Kai Kai failed.

WRS said Jia Jia's caretakers would know for sure by late next week if she is pregnant.

If she is not, the safari will look to next year for another attempt at mating.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at WRS, said there is a slim chance that she is pregnant. Since July, Jia Jia has been eating less bamboo, sleeping more and spending more time in her den. Her hormone levels are increasing as well. This happens during pregnancy or pseudo-pregnancy.

It is quite difficult to detect a panda's foetus, which only starts to develop a few weeks before birth. The gestation period for a panda is typically five months, resulting in one or two cubs.

"We can only definitively conclude she is not pregnant once her hormone levels return to normal and she has not delivered," said Dr Serena Oh, assistant director of veterinary services at WRS. "But for now, it is still a guessing game."

The giant pandas celebrate their third anniversary at the River Safari with a Panda Party Week starting this weekend, from Sept 5 to 13. Kai Kai turns eight on Sept 14.

Today, around 30 pre-schoolers from PCF Zhenghua attended a preview of the event.

Visitors can look forward to interactive booths to learn more about the animal. Children aged seven and eight can enter the River Safari for free, to mark the pandas' coming of age.

Kai Kai and Jia Jia arrived here in September 2012, on a 10-year loan from China.

The animal is notoriously tough to breed. Female pandas have only one reproductive cycle a year, in which they are fertile for only 24 to 36 hours.

There are only 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild in China and 300 in captivity around the world.

byseow@sph.com.sg