The lack of humans out and about has been really great for the environment. It turns out it's been pretty good for two pandas at Hong Kong's Ocean Park Zoo as well.
Pandas have been marked as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. Therefore, any potential for pregnancy is a cause for celebration. For the past ten years, zoo officials at the Ocean Park Zoo in Hong Kong have been trying to get two pandas to mate naturally - to no avail. Like nosy parents, they would survey whether the pair had mated constantly. They finally have some good news. Owing to the national shutdown in Hong Kong in an effort to slow down the spread of the novel Coronavirus, the pandas finally got frisky, CNN reports. Now it's just a waiting game to see if the female panda is with cub.
Ying Ying and Le Le, "longtime residents" of Ocean Park, were taught how to mate through "trial and learning." While there were several attempts to mate the couple, they simply weren't in the mood. However, they were finally successful. In a press statement released earlier this week, the zoo shared, "Ying Ying and Le Le have shown signs of entering their estrous cycle since [the] end of March, and succeeded in natural mating at around 9 am this morning. This is the first success since the two giant pandas began attempts at natural mating a decade ago, through which the Park hopes to bring to Hong Kongers exciting pregnancy news later this year while further contributing to the conservation of the vulnerable species."
The pandas, as Boos explained, began exhibiting signs typical of the species during the breeding season. While Ying Ying began spending more time playing in the water, Le Le started leaving scent-markings around his habitat and searching the enclosure for his partner's scent. The news of their natural mating is especially exciting as the chances of pregnancy via this method are greater than through artificial insemination. Nonetheless, it is far too early to know if Ying Ying is pregnant at the moment. If she is, she will begin experiencing hormonal changes. Zoo officials will also be able to track any significant changes in behavior.
Ever since their mating was confirmed, Ocean Park's team of zookeepers has been closely monitoring Ying Ying's body and behavior changes. Ocean Park's executive director for zoological operations and conservation Michael Boos affirmed, "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."
The chance of pregnancy is big news, as pandas are only one category away from being endangered. It is estimated that there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas that currently remain in their natural habitats, Ocean Park stated. If the female panda is pregnant, her gestation period will last anywhere between 72 and 324 days. Once more information is recorded, the zoo will be able to share Ying Ying's journey to motherhood. The press release read, "The Park will continue to closely monitor Ying Ying’s hormonal levels and behavioral changes and update the public on the latest developments as information becomes available." Ocean Park has been collaborating closely with experts from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda. Hopefully, their work will soon bear fruit - or cub.