Edinburgh Zoo ceases giant panda breeding programme

Edinburgh Zoo has ceased its giant panda breeding programme for at least a year after repeated failures to successfully produce cubs through artificial insemination.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which runs Edinburgh Zoo, said it will not attempt to breed its giant pandas this year “because we want to further assess the incredibly complex and unpredictable breeding process”.

Edinburgh Zoo has two pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang. The RZSS loaned them from China for 10 years in 2011 for a fee of $1m a year.

RZSS tried natural mating with the bears once, in 2012, but this was unsuccessful. It subsequently attempted artificial insemination with Yang Guang’s semen followed by defrosted semen from a bear that had previously successfully bred at Berlin zoo.

In total, RZSS failed five times at breeding through artificial insemination. Tian Tian had twins in China in 2009. The agreement with China states that the zoo would be allowed to keep a cub for two years.

A statement on the RZSS website said: “This pause, which is supported by our giant panda team and other key specialists, will allow us further time to consider the scientific data, our own experiences and those of colleagues around the world, including the latest thinking on giant panda accommodation.

“We routinely use data and learning to inform our approach to breeding, with the successful mating of our polar bears Victoria and Arktos and the birth of their cub at our Highland Wildlife Park a good example.”

It adds that the pause will be used to let the zoo make enhancements to the giant panda enclosure that would not be practicable during breeding season.

“Even without breeding success as yet, RZSS is playing a crucial role in safeguarding this magnificent species by helping fund conservation projects in China alongside international partners. These projects are critical, with fewer than two thousand giant pandas in the wild,” the statement said.

Image: c. Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.