SINGAPORE - The River Safari could soon be home to a baby panda after artificial insemination was carried out on giant panda Jia Jia on Wednesday (April 13).
This followed another failed attempt at natural mating with male panda Kai Kai and a decision was made to carry out artificial insemination to help Jia Jia conceive, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said in a statement on Friday (April 15).
Assisting the vets at River Safari was a team led by Prof Ng Soon Chye, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist internationally renowned for his expertise in reproductive medicine.
From now until around September, vets and keepers will have to wait to conclude if Jia Jia is pregnant through ultrasound scans.
Giant pandas have delayed implantation during pregnancy and vets cannot confirm pregnancy until the later part of the panda's gestation period.
Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at WRS, said: "The past few days have involved very intensive observation and monitoring of the pairs which culminated in the artificial insemination of Jia Jia. Our female panda is timid by nature and our focus now is on her after care."
After a failed attempt last year, the giant pandas had started to show signs that they were entering mating season at the end of March, said WRS.
It noted that the duo had displayed classic courtship behaviour for weeks. Kai Kai was scent-marking his exhibit and chirping to get the female's attention, while Jia Jia was sleeping more and, when awake, would be restlessly pacing about.
These displays were encouraging signs to the keepers and vets that their methods of stimulating breeding cycles and interest had been successful.
Mating season for giant pandas is typically from February to May, and the couple, here on a 10-year loan from China, showed signs in January that their breeding season was starting.
Pandas' mating instincts are brought on by hormonal changes in response to seasonal variations, such as temperature changes and increasing day length from winter to spring.
River Safari's keepers and vets have employed a number of measures since November to trigger the breeding cycles of the pandas.
These included varying the daylight hours and temperature in the panda exhibit to simulate the transition from winter to spring in the pandas' homeland in Sichuan, China.
In addition, keepers introduced each panda to the other's exhibit and den, as well as placed them side-by-side for short periods of time so that the pair could smell each other's scent. Their reaction would indicate their receptiveness to the opposite sex.
Urine samples from Jia Jia were also collected to check the hormonal levels which would also indicate when she is ready to mate.