Ahead of the annual giant panda mating season—which typically occurs from March to May—veterinarians have given both River Safari’s giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia a clean bill of health during their annual check-up last month. The annual health check included x- rays of Jia Jia’s abdomen, collection of urine samples and a dental and eye check.
This will be the giant pandas’ third attempt at natural mating, and visitors at the park may observe some intriguing courtship behaviour from the pair from now till May. As early as February, Kai Kai and Jia Jia have shown early signs that the mating season was coming soon.
Ten-year-old Kai Kai and nine-year-old Jia Jia entered mating season for the first time in 2015 but both natural mating and artificial insemination had been unsuccessful. For the coming mating season, keepers have fine-tuned techniques to stimulate their mating instincts.
Kai Kai and Jia Jia’s exhibits were first swapped in November last year, two months earlier compared to previous mating seasons, when exhibits were usually swapped in January. This helps to encourage hormonal changes when smelling the scent of the opposite gender.
As with previous mating seasons, keepers continued to vary daylight hours and temperature at River Safari’s Giant Panda Forest. This simulates the seasonal transition from winter to spring in their homeland in Sichuan, China, triggering the breeding cycle of the pair—the first of their kind to live so close to the equator.
Vets and keepers are carefully observing the behaviour of the two pandas as well as monitoring Jia Jia’s hormonal levels. Once Jia Jia’s oestrogen level drops, the giant pandas will be taken out of their respective exhibits for three days to allow natural mating in the dens. During these three days, visitors to River Safari will not be able to see Kai Kai and Jia Jia in the Giant Panda Forest.
Vets have also collected Kai Kai’s semen via electro-ejaculation for artificial insemination to increase the chances of breeding the pandas should natural mating be unsuccessful.