LONDON — Nature has apparently decided that Britain cannot handle two celebrity births in rapid succession, with zookeepers in Scotland announcing Tuesday that their prized female panda is no longer expecting.
Ten-year-old Tian Tian had been under close observation in her enclosure at the Edinburgh Zoo since August, when she began exhibiting signs of a possible pregnancy. An expert in panda midwifery flew over from China; the bear’s handlers tensely awaited signs of labor, and Brits who had barely recovered from the arrival of Prince William’s son girded themselves for another hyped birth.
But on Tuesday, disappointed zoo officials said they now believe that Tian Tian “conceived and carried a fetus until late term but then lost it.”
“We are all saddened by this turn of events after so many weeks of waiting,” Chris West, the chief executive officer of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said in a statement. “We had a meeting this morning where Tian Tian’s behavior and hormone results were reviewed and have come to the conclusion that it is very likely she has lost the pregnancy.”
The miracle of panda birth is notoriously unpredictable and difficult, both because of the animals’ fickle mating habits and because females can absorb fetuses back into their bodies. Tian Tian (“Sweetie” in Chinese) gave birth four years ago to twins, but that was no reliable predictor of a successful encore performance.
She was inseminated with sperm from her companion at the Edinburgh Zoo, Yang Guang (“Sunshine”) and with samples taken from a male panda in Germany.
Zookeepers were encouraged when Tian Tian began showing nesting behavior and a steady rise in levels of progesterone and colostrum, the precursor to milk. Her pen was closed off to visitors to give her peace and quiet.
But her hormone levels have dropped, and her eating and behavior patterns have gone back to those of a non-expectant panda.
“We are conducting a detailed review of the scientific data collected, but I am totally confident that we did everything it was possible to do,” West said.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang have been the Edinburgh Zoo’s star attractions since their arrival from China two years ago, shipped over in crates marked by FedEx as containing “one panda” each.
Twitter: @HenryHChuCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times