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Britain awaits another birth - this one a panda

August 27, 2013|By Henry Chu
  • Tian Tian, a 10-year-old panda, is under 24-hour surveillance after experts at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland saw signs that she is pregnant.
Tian Tian, a 10-year-old panda, is under 24-hour surveillance after experts… (Rob McDougall / European…)

LONDON — Already exhausted by one media-hyped birth, can Britain survive another?

A month after a new heir to the throne was born to Prince William and his wife, the media here are on Baby Watch yet again, hoping for a bundle of joy that even the most ardently republican Brit would find hard to resist. Tian Tian, the female panda at the Edinburgh Zoo, might be pregnant.

Her handlers can’t know for sure. But the black-and-white crowd-pleaser is showing positive signs, such as nesting behavior, and hormone levels in her urine are encouraging. Any birth is likely to take place within the next two weeks.

A perfectly adorable panda cub would be another boon to the zoo, which took delivery of Tian Tian and a male panda, Yang Guang, in December 2011 on a 10-year loan from China. The two bamboo-chewers were shipped to the Scottish capital by FedEx in separate crates, each of which bore a label declaring its contents: “One panda.”

The pair are now among the zoo’s top attractions, drawing visitors who coo over them on a strictly time-rationed basis put in place to manage the eager crowds.

Tian Tian was artificially inseminated with sperm from Yang Guang and also with samples taken from another male panda in Germany. Panda pregnancies are touch and go: Females can reabsorb their fetuses back into their bodies.

Tian Tian has given birth once before, in 2009, to twins, but the Edinburgh Zoo is taking no chances. Its panda handlers are on “red alert.” An expert – basically a panda midwife – has been flown over from China, and Tian Tian’s custodians can tune in to round-the-clock panda reality TV at home, with live footage of her inside her enclosure, to watch for signs of labor.

Tian Tian (“Sweetie” in Chinese) turned 10 this past Saturday. But it’s her keepers who are fervently praying for a birthday present.

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henry.chu@latimes.com

Twitter: @HenryHChu

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