Lonely Planet Writer

Tokyo zoo gives bashful pandas some private time

Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo has given two giant pandas some private time in the hope that by creating a clandestine environment the pair will mate.

Pandas can only breed about two days in every year
Pandas can only breed about two days in every year Image by Keith Roper / CC BY 2.0

Officials at the zoo ended public viewing this week to allow RiRi – the male which they say has been looking friskier of late – the opportunity to sidle up to the female, Shin Shin, while she is in heat.

Only about 2000 pandas are left in the wild in China
Only about 2000 pandas are left in the wild in south-central China Image by bm.iphone / CC BY 2.0

A spokesman for the zoo said there were only a few days every year when a panda could get pregnant. The South African Sunday Times reports that normally a panda is a solitary creature but RiRi has been looking “more amorous of late.” And although Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, staff at the complex say they won’t be dishing up any special food or even dimming the lights to encourage the pair.

That’s because animals react differently to humans and soft lighting doesn’t help them get into the mood.

Five years ago Shin Shin arrived from China and she gave birth to a baby that died from pneumonia less than a week later. The following year she had a phantom pregnancy and has been unable to get pregnant since.

Reproduction doesn’t come easily to the species as male giant pandas are clumsy when mating, often appearing flummoxed over how they should carry on.

Should Shin Shin rebuff her male companion for the third year in a row, the Zoo says it will contemplate trying to artificially inseminate her. The spokesman said it was a viable option but they would prefer to wait and see how they got on together first.

Experts estimate that only about 2000 giant pandas remain in the wilderness in south-central China.