KEEPERS AND VETS IN RIVER SAFARI HOPEFUL FOR BABY PANDA

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Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia, solitary by nature, came together for second try to have a baby panda

IMAGE 1 (left): Kai Kai and Jia Jia had been displaying courtship behaviour for weeks. Once the hormonal levels in Jia Jia’s urine samples indicated on 13 April that she was ready to mate, the two pandas were brought together in their dens for natural mating. The session was not successful, a situation not uncommon for young and inexperienced pandas. PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

IMAGE 2 (right): To help Jia Jia conceive, a decision was made to carry out artificial insemination. Assisting the vet team at River Safari was a team led by Prof Ng Soon Chye, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist internationally renowned for his expertise in human reproductive medicine. PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE, 15 April 2016 Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia have made their second attempt at parenthood over the last two days and if proved successful, River Safari will become home to a baby panda.

The giant pandas had started showing signs that they were entering mating season at the end of March. For weeks, the two pandas displayed classic courtship behaviour: Kai Kai was scent-marking his exhibit and chirping to get the female’s attention, while Jia Jia was sleeping more and when awake would be restlessly pacing about. These displays were encouraging signs to the keepers and vets that their methods of stimulating breeding cycles and interest had been successful.

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 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.

In addition, keepers introduced each panda to the other’s exhibit and den, as well as placed them side by side for short periods of time so that the pair could smell each other’s scent. Their reaction would indicate their receptiveness to the opposite sex.  Urine samples from Jia Jia were also collected to check the hormonal levels which would also indicate when she is ready to mate.

On 13 April, both pandas were brought together in their dens for natural mating. The mixing session was not successful, a situation not uncommon for young and inexperienced pandas. A decision was made to carry out artificial insemination to help Jia Jia conceive. Assisting the vet team at River Safari was a team led by Prof Ng Soon Chye, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist internationally renowned for his expertise in the reproductive medicine.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said, “River Safari is part of a global breeding and research programme for the endangered giant panda. Our team of keepers and vets are committed to provide the best animal husbandry and healthcare possible to achieve this task; and our standard of care was recently affirmed by visiting panda fertility experts from China’s Ya-An Bifengxia Panda Base. The past few days have involved very intensive observation and monitoring of the pairs which culminated in the artificial insemination of Jia Jia. Our female panda is timid by nature and our focus now is on her after care.”

From now till about September, vets and keepers will have to wait to conclude if Jia Jia is pregnant through ultrasound scans. Giant pandas have delayed implantation during pregnancy and as such, vets cannot confirm pregnancy until the later part of the panda’s gestation period.

Image 3 - Lovelorn pandas_WRS

IMAGE 3 (left): Right before Kai Kai and Jia Jia were brought together to mate, they approached each other. Separated by the mesh between their dens, the lovelorn bears signaled their interest by sniffing and chirping at each other.

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

 

Image 4 - Kai Kai and Jia Jia play fighting_WRS IMAGE 4 (left): After being brought together in their dens, Kai Kai and Jia Jia began play fighting, a natural behaviour that pandas display from young. Usually seen lazing about, the energetic rough housing was a stark contrast to their typical image. 

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

ABANDONED CRITICALLY ENDANGERED BABY PANGOLIN SUCCESSFULLY HAND-RAISED AT NIGHT SAFARI

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Pangolin baby had 50 per cent chance of survival under human care;
Guests can find out more about the elusive creature at park’s upcoming keeper interaction programme

IMAGE 1 (left): Found weak, hungry, and wandering alone at Upper Thomson Road on 22 February this year, the abandoned critically endangered Sunda pangolin was taken to Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s rescued wildlife centre where vets made a desperate attempt to hand-raise him. To encourage his natural behaviour, the baby pangolin is taken for walks every morning and evening. Foraging exercises the critically endangered animal’s keen sense of smell and strong claws.

IMAGE 2 (right): The abandoned baby pangolin was bottle-fed kitten milk replacer (KMR), a substitute for his mother’s milk, before being introduced to ants’ eggs, which he now relishes. Eventually, the pangolin will progress to the captive diet, a protein-rich formula which includes minced beef, ants’ eggs, mealworms and insectivore supplements.

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE, 7 April 2016 — Hungrily lapping up ants’ eggs, vigorously burrowing around his play tub and stubbornly clinging on to his caretaker’s arm despite being coaxed off—all heartening signs that the abandoned critically endangered baby Sunda pangolin was flourishing under the doting care of his human foster parents. This was a cause for celebration, for the robust creature today is a far cry from the wisp he had been weeks before.

Found weak, hungry, and wandering alone at Upper Thomson Road on 22 February, the four-month old pangolin was taken to Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s (WRS) rescued wildlife centre where vets made a desperate attempt to hand-raise him—a mammoth task as the delicate species generally does not thrive under human care.

The first and biggest challenge was his diet. While healthy, the baby rejected kitten milk replacer (KMR) as he was used to his mother’s milk. In addition, the scaly anteater was at a crucial point in his life of weaning off milk onto solid food, a diet of ants and termites. This change in diet caused intestinal issues and vets had to provide 24 hour care to the precious, critically endangered baby.

After a precarious one and a half week period, the pangolin proved resilient. He started drinking KMR four times a day and now relishes ants’ eggs. His milk intake has been reduced to twice daily and he is being eased into a specialised diet which the adult pangolins at Night Safari take.

Apart from diet, to encourage his natural behaviour, the baby pangolin is taken for walks every morning and evening on forested grounds. Foraging exercises the critically endangered animal’s keen sense of smell and strong claws.

Having grown from 776g to 1.1kg, the young pangolin’s makeshift quarters was upgraded to accommodate his growth. He now resides in the veterinary ward with a roomy tub for play and rest, complete with a large branch to climb on. When fully grown, a male Sunda pangolin can weigh up to 7.5kg.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said, “Successfully raising a Sunda pangolin from such a young age is a real achievement. This critically endangered species has notoriously low survival rates under human care, and this experience has given us invaluable knowledge on how to care for the species.”

Once the baby pangolin is independent and graduates to the captive diet, he will join the seven Sunda pangolins at Night Safari’s Fishing Cat Trail, two of which were born under human care. Night Safari opened the world’s first Sunda pangolin exhibit in 2009.

The Sunda pangolin is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN* Red List of Threatened Species. Globally, all eight species of pangolins are threatened with extinction as a result of unsustainable illegal trade to supply human consumption and traditional medicine in East Asia. In Singapore, the Sunda pangolin is threatened with habitat loss and motor vehicle accidents. WRS is funding ecological and genetic studies of this species whose natural history is not well understood.

As part of WRS’ efforts to highlight the plight of this dwindling species, Night Safari will begin its new keeper interaction cum feeding programme in mid-May. During the session, a keeper will educate visitors on the pangolin’s history and situation in the wild while pangolin feeding takes place in the exhibit. Due to their secretive nature, few know about the world’s only scaly mammal, so the session will provide rare insights of this creature’s natural behaviour, such as climbing trees and foraging for food.

*IUCN stands for International Union for Conservation of NatureImage 3_Baby pangolin climbs tree_WRS

 IMAGE 3 (left): Learning to climb trees exercises the tree-dwelling Sunda pangolin’s strong claws and semi-prehensile tail (tails which are capable of grasping), which it uses to grip bark and scale trees. Having grown bigger and stronger, he has taken to wrapping his tail around his caregiver’s arm, unwilling to let go.

PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

 

 

 

 

Image 4_Snoozing baby pangolin_WRS

 

 

 

IMAGE 4 (left): The baby pangolin curls up as he snoozes soundly. He only learnt to curl fully on 3 March 2016, as pictured. Curling up into a tight ball is the pangolin’s best defense against predators but ironically its worst defense against human beings, as it allows poachers to easily pick it up and toss it into a bag.
PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Image 5_Baby pangolin eats ants eggs_WRS

IMAGE 5 (left): The pangolin’s caregivers add his favourite ants’ eggs to the captive diet to encourage him to take it, but the sneaky baby would pick out just the ants’ eggs and leave the rest untouched.
PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE