March 9, 2013 at 4:47 AM ET
LONDON -- It could be the second British birth to make front pages worldwide this year. Edinburgh Zoo said Friday there are "strong indications" that its giant panda, Tian Tian, is pregnant.
Experts at the Scottish attraction said Tian Tian's hormone and protein levels, along with changes in her behavior, suggest an artificial insemination attempt in April has been successful.
“We cannot tell definitively at this stage if Tian Tian is pregnant or not, although we are seeing results that give us cause for encouragement,” zoo chief executive Chris West said in a statement.
Tian Tian and the zoo's male, Yang Guang, are Britain’s only giant pandas. They arrived in Scotland from China two years ago, and have twice tried and failed to mate naturally.
Zoo keepers have been using protein analysis techniques pioneered by the Memphis Zoo, and also used by the Washington Zoo.
A rise in levels of progesterone was detected on July 15, then confirmed on Wednesday, West’s statement said. If there is a cub, it could be born between late August and early September.
However, she could be “experiencing a pseudo pregnancy,” and her hormone levels will continue to be monitored because an ultrasound has not yet been carried out.
“Confirming a female panda’s pregnancy is never straight forward,” West said. “Further hormone results will be available roughly by mid-August that will add to the picture – if Tian Tian is not pregnant specific hormone levels should drop back down to zero.
“Not all ultrasounds detect if a female giant panda is pregnant or not and many are inconclusive, something that our American colleagues have been experiencing quite recently. We much prefer to make the ultrasound optional for Tian Tian, and being the feisty female she is, she has decided she’s not up for it!”
A BBC report said Tian Tian’s behavior – she is said to be off her food, moody and “nesting” – also give zoo officials cause for optimism.
"I think there's going to be a very big buzz about it,” Michael Livingstone, one of the panda keepers, told the BBC. "It's such an exciting thing so I think it'll go off the scale."
Edinburgh Zoo has become one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions since the arrival of the pandas in 2011, The Scotsman reported.