SAINT-AIGNAN-SUR-CHER, FRANCE (AFP) - A couple of giant pandas in captivity engaged in a rare weekend of love-making with the hoped-for result, an even rarer panda offspring, still too early to call, a French zoo said on Sunday (March 21).
Huan Huan, a female panda on loan from China at the Beauval zoo in central France, was "put in contact" eight times on Saturday with partner Yuan Zi, it said.
Female pandas are fertile only 24 to 48 hours per year and, in the wild, usually give birth every two years.
But in captivity, the tiny window of opportunity thwarts most attempts to procreate, as male pandas often appear to lose interest in the act or, lacking practice, don't know how to perform.
But, as it turned out, the Beauval couple were "cooperative and rather active" as they got close, the zoo reported.
Yuan Zi was "more at ease with the approach and the mating than in previous years", while Huan Huan, in heat, was "very interested".
The pandas' keepers and vets won't be holding their breath for success, as there are no guarantees of pregnancy even after several rounds of amorous activity.
But the team felt that the performance "was rather good", and gave kudos to the panda male who "has made progress" since last year, according the zoo's chief vet, Baptiste Mulot.
"He has a better idea of what to do," he said.
The zoo said "high-pitched sounds" from the female and "more husky" ones from the male gave the encounters their rhythm, "which is normal and a good sign".
But for good measure the team added an artificial insemination during the night with the help of German specialists flown in for the operation which involved anaesthetising the pandas briefly.
Any pregnancy should be detected within two weeks, but even that would not necessarily spell success, as pandas often experience pseudo-pregnancies that fail to produce an embryo.
Huan Huan in 2017 gave birth to Yuan Meng, the first panda born in France, after an artificial insemination.
Now grown to around his mother's size, the young panda is this year to be sent to China where 500 pandas live in captivity, and 2,000 in the wild.