WRS in talks with Chinese authorities to extend stay of giant pandas Jia Jia and Kai Kai

Mother Jia Jia and her cub are in an off-exhibit den to give them time to nurse and bond. PHOTOS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) has said it is in discussions with the Chinese authorities on extending the stay of giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia beyond next year.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, deputy chief executive of WRS, said on Thursday (Aug 26) that if the extension comes through, it would allow his team to plan for another breeding season for the pandas.

This can take place once Jia Jia's first cub becomes two years old, when cubs are considered to become independent and leave their mothers.

That is also when the cub will have to be returned to China under an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

He was speaking at a virtual media conference on Thursday that gave updates on Jia Jia and her cub, born on Aug 14 after seven years of trying by its parents.

Dr Cheng said: "Provided that the agreement goes through and Jia Jia and Kai Kai stay with us... it will not be stop at one for the giant pandas."

He did not specify how long an extension WRS is seeking.

Kai Kai, 13, and Jia Jia, 12, arrived in Singapore from China in 2012 under a 10-year loan from the Chinese authorities.

They first mated in 2015, when Jia Jia started her first estrus cycle - the panda equivalent of the human menstrual cycle.

At Thursday's briefing, the panda care team shared more about the efforts to help Jia Jia conceive.

Jia Jia was artificially inseminated on April 24, but it was not until a few weeks before the cub's birth that her pregnancy could be confirmed.

Veterinarians first noted signs of Jia Jia's possible pregnancy in late July. But as pandas also have pseudopregnancies, which show the same signs, ultrasound sessions were scheduled in the hopes of confirming it.

On Aug 10, a strong heartbeat was detected.

Dr Abraham Mathew, assistant vice-president of veterinary services at WRS who was part of the panda care team, said of the ultrasound that confirmed the pregnancy: "After seeing a heartbeat, we couldn't believe it. Then we looked at it carefully and realised: Oh my goodness - she's pregnant!"

Ms Trisha Tay, the head animal caretaker for pandas, said both mother and cub are doing well.

As is natural for new panda mothers, Jia Jia has not been eating since giving birth.
But her carers are giving her electrolytes and glucose solution via a syringe to keep her well hydrated.

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Jia Jia has been a mother now for almost two weeks and is taking to her mothering duties well, said Ms Tay.

These include cleaning her baby, licking it to stimulate pooping, and settling into a routine to nurse and care for it.

Just like human mothers, Jia Jia has shown signs of exasperation when her cub calls for her.

Ms Tay said: "In the early days, we would notice how she'd get really tired, and she would sigh quite a bit when she has to wake up to care for the cub."

But Jia Jia is also a quick learner.

Ms Tay added: "She has realised that if she nurses and cleans her cub properly, she can take longer periods of rest."

Currently, no medical check-up has yet been conducted on the cub as it has not been separated from its mother.

Jia Jia has been a mother now for almost two weeks and is taking to her mothering duties well. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE
No medical check-ups have yet been conducted on the cub as it has not been separated from its mother. PHOTO: REUTERS

WRS has decided to allow Jia Jia to nurse the cub until a natural separation occurs, which is expected to be in the next four to six weeks.

The sex of the cub will be determined during the first check-up, after which the community will be invited to play a part in the naming of the panda baby.

WRS has also said that videos from the live-cam in the maternity den will be released every day on its YouTube page at 4pm.

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