Giant panda may give birth before Scottish referendum

8th July 2014, Comments 0 comments

Britain's only female giant panda, housed at Edinburgh Zoo, could give birth to a cub shortly before Scotland's independence referendum in September, officials said Tuesday.

Tian Tian, whose name means Sweetie, has conceived following artificial insemination and zookeepers are now waiting with bated breath to see if she is actually pregnant.

If she is, she would be on track to give birth in late August, ahead of Scotland's vote on whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom on September 18.

The cub would be the first ever born in captivity in Britain.

Iain Valentine, Director of Giant Pandas at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said pandas undergo delayed implantation, meaning that while Tian Tian had conceived, the fertilised egg has not been implanted on the uterine wall.

"Technically pregnancy has not happened yet," Valentine explained.

"There are many more significant developments still to take place. Timings are all approximate, but we have just seen a secondary rise in progesterone in early July, so if all still remains on track, in 20 to 30 days pregnancy will commence.

"After this, if successful, Tian Tian would give birth roughly around late August."

The news was welcomed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who is leading the campaign for Scotland to become independent.

"Exciting news from Edinburgh Zoo that Tian Tian has conceived - would be terrific to welcome a baby Giant Panda!" he wrote on Twitter.

Tian Tian and her intended mate Yang Guang, which means Sunshine, arrived in Edinburgh on loan from China in 2011. She was artificially inseminated after the two failed to mate naturally.

The female panda miscarried last year.

That came late into what some British media called the second most watched pregnancy of the year, after that of Prince William's wife Kate, who gave birth to Prince George last July.

Pandas, whose natural habitat lies in mountainous southwestern China, have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss. China has about 1,600 pandas living in the wild.

© 2014 AFP

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