Pandas mate in lockdown privacy

Stuck at home with no visitors and not much else to do, a pair of pandas in Hong Kong finally decided to give mating a go after a decade of dodging the issue.

Like half the planet, Ying Ying and Le Le have only really had each other for company since coronavirus-caused lockdowns shut off the flow of guests to their themepark pad. And like couples everywhere, they’ve been making the best of the time on their own.

“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,” said Ocean Park conservation official Michael Boos.

The park released photos of the pair embracing in an enclosure uncharacteristically free from prying eyes and cameras.

Pandas are notoriously bad at reproducing, especially in captivity. 

But vets had their hopes up when the monochromatic lovers started showing an interest in each other during the short spring mating season.

For those who knew where to look for the tell-tale signs, ursine love was in the air.

“Since late March, Ying Ying began spending more time playing in the water, while Le Le has been leaving scent markings around his habitat and searching the area for Ying Ying’s scent,” the park said.

“Such behaviours are consistent with those common during breeding season, which occurs once every year between March to May,” it added.

Ying Ying will now be monitored for signs of pregnancy, but it may be quite a wait because the gestation period for giant pandas ranges from 72 to 324 days, an average pregnancy lasting 135 days. This variation occurs because the egg floats in the uterus before it implants and begins developing, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

Ocean Park said confirmation of pregnancy can only be detected by an ultrasound scan about 14 to 17 days before birth. But Ying Ying might exhibit hormonal fluctuations and behavioural changes as early as June if fertilisation has occurred.

The announcement was a rare bit of good news as Hong Kong reels under a recession and movement restrictions caused by the coronavirus.

Ocean Park, which is earmarked for a $1.4-billion bailout from the city government, has been closed since late January because of the pandemic.

Many people on Facebook speculated that the absence of crowds might have boosted Ying Ying and Le Le’s confidence.

“It’s a good time to make a baby bear when you are on holiday and have no pressure,” wrote Janet Mok.  — AFP

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