Helping Kai Kai and Jia Jia become Papa and Mama

Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) director of conservation, research and veterinary services Sonja Luz. Getting the timing right is critical - not only does Jia Jia ovulate only once a year, but her fertility also peaks for just 24 to 36 hours. ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Kai Kai being intubated so that he can be hooked up to a ventilator to help him breathe while under anaesthesia;ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Equipment laid out in preparation for the procedure;ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Dr Anwar Ali (left), a veterinarian with WRS, and Dr Mathew having a discussion on the probes they will be using to deliver an electric current to stimulate Kai Kai to ejaculate. ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Professor Ng manoeuvring a hysteroscope - a thin, lighted telescope-like device - to locate Jia Jia's uterus. He explains that the lower part of the panda's female reproductive tract is very different from that of humans, and that finding the uterine cavity is a challenge. ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Jia Jia is ready to be taken back to her enclosure after the artificial insemination.ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
Jia Jia being taken back to her enclosure after the procedure. It will be another three to five months before the team knows for sure whether the procedure worked. Pandas experience delayed implantation so it is often only close to the time of birth that the foetus can be detected through ultrasound, though urine tests can provide hints.ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
Senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew (third from left) delivering 5ml of milky liquid - Singapore's best hope of a giant panda baby - into Jia Jia. Beside him are obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Ng Soon Chye and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS)
The WRS team collecting samples of semen from Kai Kai. As each current surges through the animal, his hind legs shoot up, and two staff members are on hand to hold them down. ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN
A microscope with 1,000 times magnification connected to a monitor allows the team to evaluate the quality and number of sperm.
A microscope with 1,000 times magnification connected to a monitor allows the team to evaluate the quality and number of sperm.ST PHOTOS: WANG HUI FEN

It is notoriously difficult to get pandas in captivity to conceive, but at the Singapore Zoo, keepers are hoping that, with a little help from science, it will be fourth time lucky for Kai Kai and Jia Jia. Samantha Boh and Wang Hui Fen, who were given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how the procedure was performed, take you through the mammoth effort.

It is the witching hour, and 20 people have gathered at the zoo to work their magic.

All eyes are on senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew, who has in his hands a teaspoon of milky liquid, the fruit of hours of effort.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2018, with the headline 'Helping Kai Kai and Jia Jia become Papa and Mama'. Print Edition | Subscribe