Giant pandas Kai Kai & Jia Jia enter mating season for the first time; Panda caretakers successfully trigger breeding behaviours through controlled lighting and temperature in Giant Panda Forest

Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia displayed breeding behaviours for the first time at River Safari and were brought together to mate in their den on Friday, 17 April. The 40-minute session did not appear to be successful, which is typical for first-time breeders as they may not know how to mate. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

Giant pandas Kai Kai & Jia Jia displayed breeding behaviours for the first time at River Safari and were brought together to mate in their den on Friday, 17 April. The 40-minute session did not appear to be successful, which is typical for first-time breeders as they may not know how to mate. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

SINGAPORE, 21 April 2015 Giant pandas Kai Kai & Jia Jia have officially crossed their first mating season, a cause for jubilation for caretakers at River Safari as the endangered bears are notoriously difficult to breed.

Kai Kai & Jia Jia’s development has been an interesting case for researchers as they are the first pair of giant pandas living so close to the equator. The pubescent pandas were suitable for pairing last year but did not show signs of readiness to mate. Pandas’ mating instincts are brought on by hormonal changes in response to seasonal variations, such as temperature changes and increasing day length from winter to spring.

River Safari’s keepers and vets have employed a number of measures since last November to trigger the breeding cycles of the pandas. These included varying the daylight hours and temperature in the panda exhibit to simulate the transition from winter to spring in the pandas’ homeland in Sichuan, China.

Pubescent panda Kai Kai started showing increasing levels of interest in Jia Jia following efforts by keepers and vets in altering exhibit conditions to trigger breeding behaviours. In early April, the giant pandas were frequently seen peering through the gap in the closed gate linking their exhibits, scent-marking their areas and bleating at each other. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

The pandas responded. Seven-year-old Kai Kai started bleating and scent-marking more frequently to attract six-year-old Jia Jia, who showed the first sign of coming into estrous on 5 April, marked by her swollen genital, restless behaviour and hormonal analysis that indicated she was in heat. The two bears were also frequently seen calling out to each other and looking through a closed gate linking their exhibit.

River Safari’s keepers and vets have employed a number of measures since November 2014 to trigger the breeding cycles of the pandas, and the bears responded well. Since 5 April, six-year-old female Jia Jia started showing signs that she was in heat. She was restless, pacing in the exhibit, rolling on the ground and attempting to breach the gate connecting hers and Kai Kai’s exhibit. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

River Safari’s keepers and vets have employed a number of measures since November 2014 to trigger the breeding cycles of the pandas, and the bears responded well. Since 5 April, six-year-old female Jia Jia started showing signs that she was in heat. She was restless, pacing in the exhibit, rolling on the ground and attempting to breach the gate connecting hers and Kai Kai’s exhibit. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: “The latest development with Kai Kai & Jia Jia spells exciting times for panda researchers. They are the first pair of giant pandas to live so close to the equator, and we have shown that we can provide the right conditions to elicit mating behaviours. Maintaining a sustainable population of these critically endangered animals under human care is a crucial part of their conservation plan.”

On the evening of 17 April, both pandas were brought together for the first time in their dens for natural mating. The 40-minute session did not appear to be successful, which is typical for first-time breeders as they may not know how to mate. A decision was made to carry out artificial insemination to increase Jia Jia’s chances of conceiving.

As it became evident that the giant pandas were ready for pairing, on 17 April, keepers brought Kai Kai and Jia Jia together for the first time in an attempt at natural mating. Kai Kai curiously sniffed Jia Jia during their first introduction without barriers. Previously, both pandas have never been in close physical contact with each other. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

As it became evident that the giant pandas were ready for pairing, on 17 April, keepers brought Kai Kai and Jia Jia together for the first time in an attempt at natural mating. Kai Kai curiously sniffed Jia Jia during their first introduction without barriers. Previously, both pandas have never been in close physical contact with each other. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

Dr Serena Oh, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: “Panda reproduction is a notoriously complex process, with females ovulating once a year, in which they are fertile for only 24 to 36 hours. Jia Jia’s hormones started falling on Friday and we needed to move quickly to artificial insemination due to the short window when female pandas are able to conceive.”

On 18 April, male panda Kai Kai was brought into the Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre for a health check, followed by electroejaculation which is a technique commonly used for semen collection. To ensure a higher chance of conception, the dedicated team of veterinarians and giant panda keepers carried out artificial insemination after an unsuccessful mating session. From left to right (foreground): Head Veterinarian Dr Serena Oh, male panda Kai Kai, Senior Veterinarian Dr Abraham Matthews and Veterinarian Dr Anwar Ali. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

On 18 April, male panda Kai Kai was brought into the Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre for a health check, followed by electroejaculation which is a technique commonly used for semen collection. To ensure a higher chance of conception, the dedicated team of veterinarians and giant panda keepers carried out artificial insemination after an unsuccessful mating session.
From left to right (foreground): Head Veterinarian Dr Serena Oh, male panda Kai Kai, Senior Veterinarian Dr Abraham Matthews and Veterinarian Dr Anwar Ali. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

She continued: “In the next few months, we will continue to monitor Jia Jia’s hormone levels and conduct ultrasounds to determine if she is pregnant. We will wait and hope for the best.”

In an attempt to increase her chances for a baby panda, Jia Jia was brought into the Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre for artificial insemination. The vets will monitor Jia Jia for signs of pregnancy in the next few months. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

In an attempt to increase her chances for a baby panda, Jia Jia was brought into the Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre for artificial insemination. The vets will monitor Jia Jia for signs of pregnancy in the next few months. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE.

The gestation period for a panda is typically five months, and one or two cubs are usually born.