The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed our lives, that is for sure. Yet, while the future looks grim, or uncertain at least, it seems that nature enjoys the break we all took.
This April, two pandas have finally got the chance to enjoy their privacy and mated for the first time in a decade!
Ocean Park Zoo in Hong Kong has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and after years of encouragement by their handlers, the 14-year-old pandas, female Ying Ying and male Le Le, have finally mated.
Giant pandas are known to be bad at breeding, especially in captivity, so this news made the staff at the zoo ecstatic!
They mentioned nothing about the coincidental timing, but stated that the couple had clearly learned to copulate after years upon years of “trial”. The zoo shared photos of the event, and officials explained that they hope the encounter will lead to a pregnancy.
Yet, they won’t be able to learn about the good news until about 14 to 17 days before birth, and around that time, an ultrasound will be needed to confirm the pregnancy.
Wholesome quarantine footage: Giant panda Ying Ying and Le Le in Hong Kong did what many people do under #coronavirus lockdown, do what comes naturally…for the very 1st time in a decade for this panda couple pic.twitter.com/kNH5bDrbgQ
— Carl Zha (@CarlZha) April 6, 2020
Michael Boos, Ocean Park’s executive director in zoological operations and conservation, added that the chances of pregnancy through natural mating are much higher than artificial insemination:
“Since Ying Ying and Le Le’s arrival in Hong Kong in 2007 and attempts at natural mating since 2010, they, unfortunately, have yet to succeed until this year upon years of trial and learning.
The successful natural mating process today is extremely exciting for all of us, as the chance of pregnancy via natural mating is higher than by artificial insemination. We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species.”
Zoo officials added that the pandas had been giving signs that they were ready to mate since late March. Namely, Ying Ying started playing in the water more often, and Le Le started leaving scent-markings around his habitat and looking for her scent.
They said that such behavior is common during mating season.
“If successful, signs of pregnancy, including hormonal level fluctuations and behavioral changes, may be observed as early as late June, though there is always a chance that Ying Ying could experience a pseudo-pregnancy.
We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species.”
While they were previously considered “endangered”, pandas have recently been reclassified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
According to Ocean Park, there are only around 1,800 giant pandas in their natural habitat.