It seems all these giant pandas needed was a little privacy.
Parenthood might be around the corner for Ying Ying and Le Le, which are longtime residents of Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Zoo officials announced Monday that after 10 years of attempts at natural mating, and “through trial and learning,” the two have finally succeeded.
“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,” Michael Boos, executive director for zoological operations and conservation at Ocean Park, said in a press release.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the park has been closed to visitors since late January. Staff noticed certain behaviors in the two giant pandas that are common during breeding season, which occurs every year between March and May.
“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,” reads the press release.
While it is still too early to tell whether a baby panda is on the way, Ying Ying’s body and behavioral changes are being closely monitored.
“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,” said Boos.
This is big news in conservation efforts for the species that is currently listed vulnerable, one category away from being endangered, according the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are only around 1,800 giant pandas that remain in their natural habitat, according to Ocean Park.
“We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species,” said Boos.
If Ying Ying is pregnant, the gestation period for giant pandas ranges between 72 and 324 days. The zoo said it will be sharing updates on her journey to motherhood once more is known.