Pandas find time for love without constant visitors

Ocean Park staff noticed a change in bears' behaviour shortly after the closure. Without so many visitors, the pandas have had more privacy and downtime.

Two panda bears at Hong Kong's Ocean Park Zoo have finally mated after 10 years of in which zookeepers hoped for a natural mating "through trial and learning." On Monday, zoo officials announced that after a decade the two have had success, according to CNN.

"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," said Michael Boos, executive director for zoological operations and conservation at Ocean Park, in a press release.

The park has been forced to close to the public since late January due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ocean Park staff began to notice a change in the bears behaviour shortly after the closure. Without so many visitors to the park, the pandas have had more privacy and downtime. Increased affection between the bears is not uncommon between March and May, which is the pandas annual mating season.

"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," Ocean Park said in a press release.

Zoo officials can't yet tell if a baby panda is on the way, however they will continue to monitor Ying Ying's body and behavioural changes with a watchful eye. Should Ying Ying become pregnant, the gestation period for giant pandas ranges between 72 and 324 days. Ocean Park Zoo said it will provide more updates if her journey to motherhood is confirmed.

"If successful, signs of pregnancy, including hormonal level fluctuations and behavioural changes may be observed as early as late June, though there is always a chance that Ying Ying could experience a pseudo-pregnancy," said Boos.

This is pretty exciting news considering that there are approximately just 1,800 giant pandas that remain living in their natural habitat, according to Ocean Park. The species is listed as vulnerable, which is one category away from being endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

"We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species," said Boos.