An important season in the annual panda calendar

In the world of the giant panda, there are two important seasons every year – the season of mating and the season of birthing. Right now, we’re in the midst of the first.

The mating season traditionally happens between March and May each year; “traditionally” because in recent years, it has been starting earlier, with one mating in 2013 recorded on 14 February that year. This year’s has also seen several February matings.

Right now, every zoo in the world with a panda pair is getting excited and wondering if theirs will be proud panda parents this year. Some of these have been highlighted in the media: both Bai Yun in San Diego Zoo and Tian Tian in Edinburgh Zoo getting artificially inseminated, as did Taipei Zoo’s Yuan Yuan when her “hot” date with her mate Tuan Tuan didn’t go as expected.

Where is Feng Yi in this year’s breeding season? While she’s eating less, her activity level has increased; yesterday, she alternated between eating and short 10-minute naps (usually it’s at least an hour and usually more) in the morning and had a vigorous play session up on her climbing structure in the afternoon while Fu Wa was mostly in snoozeland. When I mentioned this to the CCRCGP keeper currently with us, she noted that it is “breeding season” behaviour.

When will Feng Yi come into estrus? Looking at last year’s experience when she was in heat after arriving in Malaysia, she could be one of the late “bloomers” for this year. We can only watch and wait.

Visitors to the panda complex, when told about the mating season and what happens (that we wait for her hormones to peak and then we put them together), look hopeful until we tell them it will happen in the back rooms away from the public. Yup, pandas need privacy, too; at least, that’s what I think.