Female giant panda at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park shows signs of pregnancy, raising hopes of city’s first ever cub

After recent phantom pregnancy and a miscarriage, Ying Ying’s condition suggests potentially historic conception

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 10:47pm

After four attempts at artificial insemination and various efforts to conceive naturally, Ocean Park’s giant panda Ying Ying has shown signs of pregnancy, raising hopes once again that Hong Kong may get its first ever giant panda cub.

But local animal lovers ought not to get too excited, as a keeper at the park said it was too early to tell if those signs were only part of a phantom pregnancy.

Ying Ying, 12, has been mating with fellow Ocean Park resident Le Le since 2011, but this year the pair failed once again to conceive naturally.

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In an attempt to give a small population boost to a species well known for a weak libido, park workers used Le Le’s semen and frozen sperm from older giant panda An An to artificially inseminate Ying Ying. After four attempts, the method seems to have borne fruit.

“Since early July, Ying Ying has started displaying some typical pregnancy symptoms, including reduced food intake, increased resting time, a swollen vulva, and corresponding hormonal changes,” Howard Chuk Hau-chung, a senior curator at the park, said.

But Chuk sounded a note of caution, saying there was still a high chance that Ying Ying was going through a phantom pregnancy, a condition where female animals show signs of being with child, but are in fact not. Only during late gestation, about two weeks before birth, can a giant panda pregnancy be confirmed, and false pregnancies are common.

Only last year, Ying Ying showed some signs of being pregnant, but turned out not to be.

In 2015 she really was pregnant, but the foetus, just 3.5cm long, was found without a heartbeat 130 days after conception.

Ocean Park, the city’s most visited theme park, saw moderate year-on-year growth in visitor numbers for July despite the recent rainy weather, according to its chief executive, Matthias Li Sing-chung.

The government-owned park has launched a ticket deal to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British sovereignty to Chinese, under which city residents can get a free child ticket with every pair of adult tickets from now until August 27.

But for the city on the whole, overall visitor numbers for June looked weak, with 1.9 per cent fewer tourists entering the city compared with a year ago.

And the number of visitors from mainland China for the month shrank by 3.4 per cent year on year, according to figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The board said that decline was mainly due to a drop in one-day visitors from the mainland.