A giant panda couple in Singapore became proud parents to the country’s first panda cub at the River Safari zoo on Saturday, overcoming several biological hurdles, including seven attempts at conception over nine years.
Photos of the mother canoodling her child were uploaded by authorities on social media.
Giant male Kai Kai and his female counterpart Jia Jia had come to Singapore from China in 2012 on a 10-year loan. Zookeepers and a wildlife reserve team after a number of years used several means, including artificial insemination, to help the panda conceive.
Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Wildlife Reserves Singapore, that manages several of the country’s zoos, for the feat and underlined hurdles faced along the way.
“It is famously difficult for pandas in captivity to reproduce. Pandas have only a narrow window each year to conceive … Their keepers deserve kudos for this difficult and rare accomplishment, and for persevering despite previous failures,” he said in a Facebook post.
Deng Xijun, China’s ambassador to ASEAN, took to Twitter to celebrate the birth of the cub and said the occasion called for “a joyful boost to the ongoing celebrations of National Day,” referring to the commemoration of Singapore’s independence from Malaysia.
Kai Kai and Jia Jia’s attempts at mating were a challenge for authorities, as giant female pandas come with a rare window of just one reproductive cycle per year. The cycle itself lasts between 24 and 36 hours. Yet another challenge involves the complexities associated with captivity.
In the wild, female pandas are free to pick the most virile in the pack for mating. Kai Kai and Jia Jia, however, were young and inexperienced.
The couple, after being introduced, made their first overture in 2015, after Kai Kai tried to attract Jia Jia by bleating and scent marking. This attempt, along with one requiring artificial insemination of Jia Jia, failed.
Zoo authorities then made several more attempts in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In one of the attempts, the zookeepers tried to rely on artificial insemination over natural mating, but were not successful. Ultimately, the seventh attempt this year had the panda couple mate naturally after which Jia Jia was artificially inseminated as well, reported The Straits Times.
The first positive signs emerged in July, when Jia Jia’s ultrasound scans showed her cervix thickening and signs of fluid in her uterine horns.
On August 10, a veterinarian from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore traced the clear outline of a foetus with a strong heartbeat, according to The Straits Times.
The panda cub was born at about 7.50am on Saturday at the River Safari zoo.