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article imageMadrid Zoo-Aquarium hopeful for more Giant Panda cubs

By Anne Sewell     Aug 21, 2013 in World
Madrid - Zookeepers at Madrid's Zoo-Aquarium say there is reason to believe that the resident female giant panda, Hua Zui Ba, might be pregnant again. However, they say more tests are required to confirm the pregnancy.
The possible parents, Hua Zui Ba and her mate Bing Xing, were introduced to the Madrid Zoo-Aquarium back in 2007. Around three years ago, they produced a brood of cubs, twins Po and De-De.
Now zookeepers are getting hopeful and excited over the possibly of yet another birth.
Zoo veterinarian Dr Eva Martínez told the media, "Everything seems to indicate that she is pregnant again. Her behavior is changing - she has less appetite and she is more restless."
Dr Martínez added that hormonal analysis also points to a new pregnancy.
However despite these signs, zookeepers will not know for certain whether she is pregnant until they are able to conduct more tests. Apparently panda fetuses only show on ultrasound during the last two or three weeks of pregnancy.
The gestation period of giant pandas can range from between three and five months and Hua Zui Ba is currently on day 120. The birth of Po and De-De occurred after 135 days, so it is possible that she is in the final stretch of her pregnancy. Veterinarians at Madrid Zoo-Aquarium and breeding experts from Research Base Chengdu in China are keeping the mother under constant video surveillance, just in case.
Breeding difficulties of an endangered species:
Breeding pandas in captivity is difficult, and females are only fertile for around two to three days a year, making it even more difficult for them to conceive.
With pandas being an endangered species, which is partly due to human infringement on their natural habitat and deforestation, another baby panda would be very important for conservationists.
It is estimated that the population of giant pandas living in China is around 1,600, which are currently threatened by habitat destruction, while in zoos their number is around 250 or more animals. According to Dr Martínez there are only around 25 to 35 panda cubs born in captivity each year, and most of these are in China.
Dr Martínez explained: "Giant pandas are a species in which reproduction is not easy."
"There are few individuals and in some cases the males do not show interest in the females. We have to draw upon techniques of artificial insemination. The difficulties are that a lot of the time natural mating does not happen between panda partners."
Another problem is that pandas are reportedly prone to "pseudo-pregnancies," which show the same symptoms as a genuine gestation, and that could be the case now.
However, Dr Martínez added, "We work with highly specialized teams and personnel, with very high standards of food quality, welfare, care and supervision. This, together with the artificial reproduction techniques, allows us to have success in breeding."
"All the employees at the zoo are very hopeful about the possible arrival of new panda babies this year," she added.
Dr Martínez spoke about the birth of Po and De-De, at which she was present:
"It was very exciting. It was very important for the conservation program of this endangered species. And when we saw the birth of the first baby, and after a while the second, and she cared perfectly for the offspring, it was very special for the whole zoo team. If this year one or two cubs were born, it would be great for the species and for the zoo."
Reportedly when the cubs were born, they took turns being with their mother and had to be swapped every three or four hours to an incubator. Natural panda behavior in the wild is that the mother would choose only one cub and leave the other, so this swap-over was necessary for the survival of both cubs.
Below is a photo of Po and De-De. Hopefully Digital Journal can soon report on the new arrivals.
Giant panda  twins Po  and De-De  born September 7  2010. Madrid Zoo Aquarium.
Giant panda twins Po and De-De, born September 7, 2010. Madrid Zoo Aquarium.
Xauxa (Håkan Svensson)
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