April 14, 2010

Pregnancy Watch Begins After Giant Pandas Mate

The endangered giant panda may soon be able to add a new representative to the ranks of their species, according to officials at the Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna.

Yang Yang and Long Hui, two A. melanoleuca representatives living in captivity at the Austrian capital's zoo, mated twice this week. Coincidentally, the zoo was also the home to the first naturally conceived panda to be born in Europe--Fu Long, which was born in August 2007.

The mating season for giant pandas lasts from March through May, but reproduction has proven difficult because the females are typically only fertile for two to four days each year.

As a result, few members of the species remain. According to a 2006 report, approximately 1,600 giant pandas remain in the world. Other studies have suggested that those figures may actually be as low as 266 or as high as 3,000.

Panda pregnancies typically last between three and six months.

Less than a year ago, in July 2009, scientists in China confirmed the birth of the first cub born as a result of conception through artificial insemination. The cub, which was born from sperm frozen in liquid nitrogen in 1980, was the third child of an 11-year-old named You You.

The technique "can avoid inbreeding of giant pandas and increase the diversity of the species," Huang Yan, a researcher with the Wolong Nature Reserve China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, told the Xinhua news agency shortly after the 2009 birth. "With the technology, we can keep the sperm frozen for decades"¦ The freezing and thawing causes no harm or change to the genetic structure of the sperm, so the technology has no influence on the baby."


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