Ocean Park hopes pandas will get pregnant on third try

Ying Ying has just three days a year to conceive, but Ocean Park hopes Le Le can give her a cub

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 5:56am

They've tried to do it twice before, without success. But Ocean Park is hoping it will be third year lucky for Le Le when he attempts to woo the attraction's youngest panda Ying Ying this spring.

But he has a small window in which to strike. Female pandas only experience one estrous cycle a year, and when it comes it lasts for just three days.

The park's senior curator of terrestrial life sciences Howard Chuk hau-chung said that pandas usually mate between March and May - and he has already seen signals the cuddling bears may be about to enter the breeding season. But to be sure, Chuk needs to see more signs of bleating and restlessness.

When they do find their window, Ying Ying has a 30 to 50 per cent chance of successfully getting pregnant. The past two attempts failed because Le Le did not master the mating position.

"They tried to mate three times a day in the past two years during the breeding season. But at the end they did not mate successfully. I am confident they will succeed this year after gaining the experience," Chuk said.

They tried to mate three times a day in the past two years during the breeding season. But at the end they did not mate successfully

To help Le Le prepare, panda trainers have been putting fruit on the trees to encourage him to stand on his hindlegs to reach the food, strengthening his muscles in the process.

"Le Le weighs about 125kg so it is challenging to get the position right because he needs to stand on his hindlegs," Chuk said.

To avoid relying on muscle power alone, the park has an ingenious aid for Le Le - a platform raised 10cm off the ground for him to stand on while mating.

As the crucial three days approach, the park has been letting the pandas play with towels that smell of each other and limiting their cleaning routine, so their mate's scent lingers.

If all goes to plan and Ying Ying does get pregnant, the park will not know until two weeks before she gives birth, as baby pandas are too small to detect by ultra-sound until then. A panda's gestation period lasts between 120 and 320 days.

But if the pandas fail this season all is not lost. At eight years old, Chuk says they have another eight or so good years to try again.