Pandas At Empty Zoo Under COVID-19 Shutdown Mated After 10 Years Together

By Emily Lee

If you're in need of some good news today, you've come to the right place. Ocean Park zoo in Hong Kong announced on Monday (April 6) that after 10 years together, giant pandas Le Le and Ying Ying have successfully mated. And, yes, they were so excited about it, they shared photos of the happy event with the whole world.

If you aren't that familiar with giant pandas and wondering why this is such a big deal, giant pandas are considered a vulnerable species in the wild and, unfortunately for them, are notoriously bad at mating on their own. Zoos around the world do their part to keep the species alive via artificial insemination, however, chances of conception are much higher through natural mating. While Le Le and Ying Ying have lived together at Ocean Park for a decade now, they only successfully managed to mate once the zoo shut down as a result of COVID-19. Though Ocean Park points out this wasn't for a lack of trying. In their press release regarding Le Le and Ying Ying's successful mating, they wrote this success comes after years of "trial and learning."

"The successful natural mating process today is extremely exciting for all of us, as the chance of pregnancy via natural mating is higher than by artificial insemination," Michael Boos, executive director for zoological operations and conservation at Ocean Park, said in the press release."Since late March, Ying Ying began spending more time playing in the water, while Le Le has been leaving scent-markings around his habitat and searching the area for Ying Ying's scent," he explains, which means Le Le and Ying Ying had begun practicing behaviors that are common among giant pandas during breeding season.

Boos and the Ocean Park zookeepers are hoping Ying Ying welcomes a panda cub in the near future. "If successful, signs of pregnancy, including hormonal level fluctuations and behavioral changes may be observed as early as late June, though there is always a chance that Ying Ying could experience a pseudo-pregnancy," Boos continued. "We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species."

According to Ocean Park, the gestation period for a giant panda can range anywhere between 72–324 days. Meanwhile, the pregnancy can only be detected by an ultrasound about two weeks before birth. Like Boos, we'll just have to wait and see if Le Le and Ying Ying are going to be parents. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed for them.

Photo: Ocean Park

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