Chinese experts called to help pandas mate at Belgian zoo

Brussels, Feb 10 (IANS) Two Chinese experts have been called in to an animal park in Belgium in a “delicate mission” to help two pandas reproduce, the park said in a statement.

Hao Hao and Xing Hui were gifted by China to the Pairi Daiza park in Brugelette, near the southern Belgian city of Mons, in 2014.

Zoo keepers had noted a change in the couple’s behaviour in recent days, potentially signalling the start of a reproductive period, Xinhua reported.

Two experts from the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Pandas in Sichuan, Professor Li Descheng and assistant Li Rengui, arrived at Pairi Daiza on Tuesday, the park said.

Professor Descheng has 22 years of experience in breeding giant pandas and is helping a team of local scientists to oversee the reproduction attempts.

Pairi Daiza has also been working with specialists at the University of Ghent to study their behaviour, hormones and overall health to help them procreate.

Pandas have infamously solitary lifestyles — female pandas only tolerate a male’s presence around them two to three days a year during mating season.

The reproduction period in a female panda is characterised by a peak of oestrogen, followed by a fall.

The park said the latest results of the urine samples of Hao Hao, the female, showed no significant drop in oestrogen levels.

The park added that it was “likely that nothing will happen today” and said it would provide timely updates on whether mating or artificial insemination has been achieved.

Hao Hao and Xing Hui were the first giant pandas China has sent overseas for a lease term of 15 years instead of the usual 10.

Belgium became only the 13th country and Pairi Daiza the 18th zoo in the world to house giant pandas, considered one of the world’s most endangered species.

About 1,600 live in the wild, mostly in the mountains of China’s Sichuan province, while over 300 live in captivity.

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