China announced Tuesday the birth of extremely rare panda triplets in a further success for the country's artificial breeding program, while a zoo in Scotland said its female giant panda appeared to be pregnant after months of dashed hopes.
The three Chinese cubs were born July 29 in the southern city of Guangzhou, but breeders delayed an announcement until they were sure all three would survive, the official China News Service said. The mother, Ju Xiao, and the three as-yet-unnamed cubs are healthy, the news agency said. Ju Xiao was impregnated in March with sperm from a panda living at a Guangzhou zoo, and was under round-the-clock care for the final weeks of her pregnancy, according to the report. The triplets were born within four hours of each other and currently weigh between 230 and 333 grams.
The report said the triplets were only the fourth known to have been born in the world through artificial breeding programs, but it wasn't clear how many had survived from such births.
Edinburgh Zoo said Tuesday the latest scientific data it has suggests that Tian Tian – Chinese for Sweetie – has conceived following artificial insemination in April, and may give birth at the end of the month.
Experts are closely monitoring the hormone and protein levels in the animal's urine on a daily basis, but officials cautioned they would not be certain until Tian Tian gives birth.
"This is all very new and complex science and we still have a bit of time to go yet, as like last year, the late loss of a cub remains entirely possible," said Iain Valentine at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
Tian Tian became pregnant last year, also after artificial insemination, but appeared to have reabsorbed the fetus late term. Before that, she was reluctant to mate with male companion Yang Guang (Sunshine) despite encouragement from zoo officials.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang, both aged 10, arrived from China in 2011. They are the only pandas in Britain.
There are about 1,600 giant pandas in the wild, where they are critically endangered due to loss of habitat and low birth rates. More than 300 live in captivity, mostly in China's breeding programs. Giant pandas have difficulty breeding and their pregnancies are notoriously difficult to follow because the animals experience "pseudo-pregnancies" – their behaviour and hormonal changes do not indicate for certain whether they are pregnant or not.
The mammals' fetuses do not start to develop until the final weeks of gestation.