Stripped to the bear bones
Jason Gagliardi in Bangkok
Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard that Hong Kong's famed pandas, Le Le and Ying Ying, were recently feeling frisky, batting big black goo-goo eyes at each other and looking to get jiggy among the bamboo in their Ocean Park pad.
Pandas are not renowned for libidinous lechery in the manner of, say, bonobo chimps, humans and other primates. There is no panda Craigslist, full of ads for all manner of perversions. Their main horizontal pastime is lolling about munching on bamboo roots, shoots and leaves.
But the fact pandas exist is evidence that from time to time they do answer nature's call to mate. And as anyone who has experienced failure to copulate can attest, pressure to perform or the presence of prying eyes may cause desire to wilt like a length of bamboo past its prime.
So the kind folks at Ocean Park recently closed the panda exhibit for three days after Ying Ying, the female, reached what zoo experts termed 'the peak of her estrus'. Alas, despite the privacy, their dirty weekend did not turn into Last Tango for Pandas. Le Le failed to deliver the yang for Ying Ying's yin, even when she brought out the kinky stuff, including 'increased water play' and 'bleating'.
'They responded well to each other and close interactions have been observed from the pair. Unfortunately, no successful mating behaviours have been observed,' the park said in a statement.
As a married man just past his 12th anniversary, overworked and stressed, I know a thing or two about unsuccessful mating behaviours and I sympathise with Le Le. While Ying Ying was shaking her substantial money-maker and oozing estrus, Le Le was likely fretting over the panda male's famously small equipment, pondering what the press would say and pining for a bamboo chew.
Thailand, too, has been through panda-monium, panda-mania and other bad panda puns. Our main attractions reside at Chiang Mai Zoo: Lin Hui, Chuang Chuang and their cub, Linping, whose birth in 2009 via artificial insemination transfixed the nation and decimated productivity following the launch of a 24-hour panda television channel.
To induce mating, the male, Chuang Chuang, was put on a low-carb diet and shown 'panda porn' clips of successful couplings, but nothing worked. And no wonder: experts had previously pronounced him 'too heavy to mate'. They could have tossed him tabs of panda Viagra, lined his cage with satin sheets and stuck a mirror on the ceiling, and the poor fellow would still have been pinching his love handles and pouting.
When Linping was born, zoo profits soared as visitor numbers almost doubled. Toymakers tripled their profits.
Perhaps to Hong Kong a cub will be born, but the city should learn from our mistakes. Drop the pressure. And dismantle the love shack. That should at least give Hong Kong's panda panjandrums paws for thought.