No Giant Panda Cubs This Year

5 October 2016, 12:54 | Updated: 5 October 2016, 12:56

The UK's only female giant panda will not give birth to cubs this year, keepers at Edinburgh Zoo believe.

A bid to see if Tian Tian (Sweetie) could give birth was launched in May when she was artificially inseminated during her short breeding window.

It followed previous failed attempts to get Tian Tian to produce a cub since she and male Yang Guang (Sunshine) arrived in Scotland from China in 2011.

But, in a statement released on Wednesday, the zoo said the female bear's hormone levels "are returning to normal and her behaviours signal the end of her breeding cycle for this year''.

Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas at zoo owner the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: "2016 has been an extremely positive year for the giant panda and we at RZSS are proud of our ground-breaking research and husbandry expertise which have helped the species recover from endangered to vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list.

"Our excitement is tinged with sadness, however, as it now appears clear that Tian Tian, our resident female giant panda, will not give birth to cubs this year.

"Over the next few weeks we will conduct a thorough review of the scientific data and our processes to ensure we learn from this year's breeding season.''

Dr Valentine praised the keepers and veterinary staff who have helped to look after the animal and thanked partners at the Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas, the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the University of Edinburgh.

Tian Tian was artificially inseminated on May 1 after Yang Guang was unreceptive to natural mating.

Semen from the resident male was used in the procedure, which was carried out by zoo vets and colleagues from China and Germany.

Keepers have inseminated Tian Tian on three previous occasions but she has so far been unable to produce a panda cub at Edinburgh. She has given birth to cubs before her arrival in Scotland.

Panda reproduction is a notoriously difficult process, with females only ovulating once a year.