WILL THEY OR WON'T THEY: All eyes will be on Edinburgh's pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang to see if they mate. Picture: Gordon Terris
The results of the tests will determine when staff put Tian Tian and her male partner Yang Guang together so their hormone cycles match.
The testing now under way provides an early indication of when Tian Tian will be ready to mate this season, usually between March and May and lasting only around 36 hours.
Iain Valentine, director of the giant panda project and strategic innovations at the zoo, said: "Although there is no guarantee of panda cubs this year, we now have more confidence in our understanding of panda breeding."
Factors such as rising temperatures, the length of daylight and food availability are all considered together to have an impact on mating pandas, famously rare partly because of their sensitivity to breeding conditions and the restricted period during which they can get together.
Mr Valentine said: "Although The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is a global leader in the science and art of animal care, panda breeding by its very nature is not always straightforward – but hugely rewarding.
"Taking the vast amount we learned from our first panda breeding season in 2012, we are already implementing this knowledge in the lead up to 2013's panda breeding season
"There will be a huge focus on working to synchronise Tian Tian and Yang Guang's hormone cycles – as seasonal breeders, panda hormones are dictated by light levels. The indoor lighting levels in their enclosures now simulate those of natural light levels: in line with sunrise and sunset.
"We will also be increasing enclosure swapping, allowing both pandas the opportunity to smell each other's scent but also giving them opportunity to scent mark in each other's enclosures– a vital aspect, as the male can tell when the female is coming into season by the change in her scent and the female can tell if the male is sexually mature and capable of breeding by his scent and scent-marking skills."
The pair arrived in Scotland in December 2011 under a 10-year deal said to cost £6 million while a Scottish Enterprise report found the pandas could be worth £4m a year to the Scottish economy.
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