Memphis pandas get privacy to mate

Panda Debut
In this photo released by Zoo Atlanta, panda cub Mei Lan is examined by veterinary staff at Zoo Atlanta on Dec. 21, 2006. The cub was born on Sept. 6. A media debut for the cub is scheduled for Jan. 12.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Memphis Zoo is hoping a few days of privacy will include a magic moment between its giant pandas.

The panda exhibit was closed for 72 hours beginning Thursday to give Ya Ya and Le Le some time to mate.

A female panda has only three days a year to conceive, according to Matt Thompson, the curator of the zoo's mammal wing and overseer of the panda exhibit.

The two have been placed together during previous mating periods although officials didn't hope for much because the male was too young to mate, he said.

This time, zookeepers will try artificial insemination if the mating isn't successful, Thompson said. They won't, however, be showing any "panda porn" mating videos to the bears, as some zoos in China have tried to encourage coupling.

"This is a family zoo," Thompson joked.

The bears are sending signals that this could be the year for romance.

Ya Ya is registering high estrogen levels and is restless, irritable and grumpy — all symptoms of fertility, Thompson said.

Le Le has higher than usual levels of testosterone and has been spreading his scent around the exhibit to "mark his territory and let Ya Ya know he's around," Thompson said.

Memphis got its pandas almost four years ago on loan from China, which will own any cub that is produced.