With the approach of the annual panda mating season,River Safari’s giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia are gearing up for their second shot at making a baby panda and guests at the park may observe some intriguing courtship behaviour from the pair.
With the approach of the giant panda mating season, visitors to River Safari’s Giant Panda Forest can expect to see lovelorn Kai Kai (seen above) and his mate Jia Jia displaying some courtship behaviour. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore
Giant panda mating season is typically from February to May. As early as January, Kai Kai and Jia Jia have shown early signs that the breeding season was going to start soon.
In the coming weeks, visitors can expect to see male panda Kai Kai bleating in his exhibit and scent-marking more frequently. He may also display the flehmen response, a behaviour whereby an animal curls back its upper lip to sniff for pheromones to assess the breeding readiness of its mate. When mating season arrives, female panda Jia Jia will display restless behaviour and bleating to attract the attention of her mate.
Nine-year-old Kai Kai and eight-year-old Jia Jia entered mating season for the first time last April but both natural mating and artificial insemination had been unsuccessful. The experience, however, has armed River Safari’s team of veterinarians and keepers with a better understanding of the endangered bears’ notoriously complex reproduction process. For the coming mating season, vets and keepers have fine-tuned and employed techniques proven to be successful before in other zoos.
To enhance his performance ahead of the breeding season, Kai Kai has been dutifully doing his “sexercise” in his den for months. Panda keepers get Kai Kai to stand up on his hind legs for a few seconds at a time to strengthen his hind quarters. The exercise also serves to improve his stamina which would help to improve success rates during mating.
As with the year before, keepers have continued varying daylight hours and temperature at River Safari’s Giant Panda Forest. This simulates the seasonal transition from winter to spring in their homeland in Sichuan, China, triggering the breeding cycle of the pair—the first of their kind to live so close to the equator.
Kai Kai and Jia Jia also swapped exhibits and dens in January and February. Smelling the scent of another gender stimulates their mating instincts, encouraging hormonal changes.
At present, vets and keepers are carefully observing the behaviour of the two pandas as well as monitoring Jia Jia’s hormonal levels. Once the black and white duo are deemed ready, the pandas will be taken out of their respective exhibits for three days to allow natural mating in the dens. During this mating season of three days, guests to River Safari will not be able to see Kai Kai and Jia Jia in the Giant Panda Forest.
Vets have also collected Kai Kai’s semen for artificial insemination to increase the chances of breeding the pandas should natural mating be unsuccessful.
Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said, “Kai Kai and Jia Jia are the first giant pandas to live so close to the equator and make an intriguing case study for researchers worldwide. We have learnt much about the care of this endangered species and their breeding behaviour in the last few years, and the team is ready to apply this knowledge and hope for a Singapore baby panda this year.”