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Mating Hopes For Giant Pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian At Edinburgh Zoo

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Yang Guang and Tian Tian were introduced to each other on Tuesday
Yang Guang and Tian Tian were introduced to each other on Tuesday

With the eyes of the world upon them, the UK's only pandas could be forgiven for suffering stage fright - as the pair failed to mate after being brought together for the first time on Tuesday.

Keepers at Edinburgh Zoo opened a "love tunnel" between male Yang Guang and female Tian Tian's enclosures in the hope it would speed up the mating process.

The pair have a window of just 36 hours in which to mate, after tests showed she had ovulated.

The bears were introduced this morning and, despite being brought together five times throughout the day, have so far failed to mate.

Although a zoo spokeswoman said the pair did show "encouraging" signs, with male panda Yang Guang mounting Tian Tian, which led to the pair "wrestling".

Tian Tian had also "called out incessantly to Yang Guang" and pressed her paws and nose up to the grate separating them.

Edinburgh Zoo has turned off the "pandacam" which allows people to watch the animals online, but the fevered speculation appears to have taken its toll.

An Edinburgh Zoo spokeswoman said: "Giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang met for the first time this morning and then again several times this afternoon.

"Based on a combination of hormone testing and behavioural observation over several weeks, experts decided the time was now right for the panda pair to meet.

"The pair have now met five times, for five minutes each time, and although they have not yet mated, signs are very positive.

"Just before each meeting, Tian Tian called out incessantly to Yang Guang and pressed her paws and nose up to the grate separating them. Her body language was also very encouraging. Yang Guang has responded promisingly each time.

"Yang Guang showed little aggression during their time together, which included him mounting Tian Tian and panda wrestling.

"Although both pandas have bred before naturally whilst still in China, and both have borne cubs, they are still a relatively inexperienced pair. Pandas are only fertile for three days, but it is important to stress we are only at the very early stages of Tian Tian's breeding season."

The pandas will meet again on Wednesday morning.

Giant pandas Tian Tian (meaning Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) arrived in Scotland from Ya'an reserve in Chengdu, China, in December last year.

Earlier this month the zoo said it might stream any birth live on the internet.

The panda enclosure has a camera already installed, allowing people to watch the animals every day.

Speaking last week, Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo, said: "We are hopeful of a positive outcome. However, we are realistic that this is only the very first year that Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been in Scotland and that we also have 10 more to go.

"If Tian Tian does get pregnant, confirmation of this may also not be straightforward. Female pandas often have pseudo-pregnancies where their behaviour and hormones indicate they are pregnant for fairly long periods of time when in fact they're not.

"Also, experts do not know how long panda gestation periods actually are, as female pandas practise delayed implantation. Panda pregnancies can be anything from 85 to 100 days."

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years.