Hormone tests aid precise panda reproduction

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Hormone tests aid precise panda reproduction A staff member interacts with giant pandas at the Qinling Giant Panda Research Center in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, in March.[Photo/Xinhua]

XI'AN-A female panda who has discovered a newfound fondness of playing in the water caught the attention of its keepers at the Qinling Giant Panda Research Center in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, who believed she might be in heat.

Researchers at the center, which houses a total of 32 giant pandas, are busy monitoring and studying the animals' breeding activities, especially verifyingon Monday afternoon whether or not the pandas have initiated their estrus cycle.

Giant pandas come into estrus between February and May, with April usually being the peak of the cycle. To create the best conditions for the pandas to mate, the keepers must track the precise time of the cycle.

However, there are many challenges: The cycle only occurs once a year for pandas in captivity, lasting for only one or two weeks. To make matters worse, the mating window often lasts less than a day, and sometimes only for a few hours.

Currently, there are two methods to determine whether the animals are in heat. One method is by the traditional means of observation, and the other is testing their reproductive hormones, according to Zhang Danhui, an assistant veterinarian at the center.

The conventional method can be an arduous task for the researchers, as they have to watch the pandas around the clock, in shifts, recording their condition and conducting analysis.

It is not an easy task for a lone keeper to follow two potential mates around with a flashlight into the early morning hours.

"We would pay attention to certain behaviors, such as if their tails are up and if they are paddling or taking a cold bath," says Zhang.

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