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Panda keepers placed on cub alert
The female giant panda Tian Tian has been placed on 24-hour surveillance after the latest hormone tests revealed she could be pregnant, Edinburgh Zoo has said.
The panda will be constantly monitored and the zoo's team of panda keepers will have access to CCTV footage in their homes to look for signs of labour such as restless behaviour and bleating.
Chinese panda keeper Haiping Hu, from the China Conservation and Research Centre (CCRCGP), arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday and will be on hand to assist if a cub or cubs are born during the next two weeks.
If Tian Tian is pregnant, there is the possibility that she may not carry to the full term. Her body may reabsorb any foetuses or reject them.
Staff at Edinburgh Zoo say that to keep her relaxed she has access to her off-show area where her cubbing box is located, and she is spending most of her time there. Additional insulation has been placed in her enclosure to reduce noise.
Miss Hu has experience of many panda births, especially the birth of twins, and for the next two weeks she will be available to assist the team in Edinburgh. New incubators have been placed in the panda nursery and the keepers are prepared to work in shifts to provide 24-hour care for a cub or cubs that may need to be hand-reared.
Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: "What we are seeing in Tian Tian's hormones is encouraging, but we still cannot guarantee a pregnancy or successful birth. If indeed she is pregnant, this is an extremely risky time for panda pregnancies.
"Female giant pandas can actually reabsorb any foetuses or reject them if pregnant. If she is pregnant and carries to full term, we believe a cub or cubs could be born any time over the next two weeks. Although there are no certainties, we must err on the side of caution and be on red alert from today.
"Tian Tian's current routine is to spend a lot of her day sleeping in the cubbing box in her off-show indoor enclosure, though she does tend to come outside for a stroll and stretch on her climbing frame in the afternoons.
"We are keeping the lights switched off for most of the day inside to help mimic the atmosphere of a den that she would seek in the wild."