SCOTLAND'S giant pandas will be ready to mate next week, the bears' keepers are predicting.

Experts at Edinburgh Zoo have been monitoring the female Tian Tian and have recorded the first increase in her oestrogen levels and a dip in her progesterone.

They now believe she will be able to mate with Yang Guang next Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Female pandas ovulate once a year, giving a window of 36 hours in which they can get pregnant.

Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation, said: "We've seen behavioural changes in Tian Tian over the last week or so: calling out to Yang Guang, going up to the grate between the two enclosures and spending time in her pond to cool her internal system down.

"And now her hormone levels are changing too.

"Based on the data we have, we believe our female panda will probably be ready to mate early next week, likely on the Tuesday or Wednesday."

The zoo said it is likely both pandas will be taken off display for some or all of Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mr Valentine said staff at the zoo are looking forward to next week "with a mixture of excitement and anticipation".

He said: "On day one both pandas will be put into the same enclosure, with Yang Guang going to Tian Tian.

"Likely only for around 15 minutes, our expert keepers will be on hand to separate the two bears if the sparks fly just a little too much, as at the end of the day, both are powerful and dangerous animals and it's not uncommon for pandas to attack each other after or instead of mating.

"We will introduce them up to three times on the first day. If all goes well, we will continue to encourage natural mating on day two as well. If natural mating doesn't occur on day one, we will consider artificial insemination."