SINGAPORE: For the first time in four years, River Safari giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia will not be allowed to mate.
The pair had been allowed to try mating before artificial insemination during previous panda mating seasons. This season, however, they were kept apart so the veterinary team "could secure quality semen samples" from Kai Kai for artificial insemination and maximise the chances of pregnancy.
"Our game plan this year was to preserve as much fresh semen as possible from Kai Kai," said Dr Sonja Luz, director of conservation, research and veterinary services at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) - which manages the River Safari - said in a media release on Thursday (Apr 19).
"In past mating attempts, good semen samples were sometimes lost in excitement when the bears were brought together."
Kai Kai and Jia Jia - aged 10 and nine respectively - entered mating season for the first time in 2015, but subsequent natural mating and artificial insemination methods had been unsuccessful.
The River Safari team "leapt into action" on Apr 7 when Jia Jia's hormone levels indicated she was ovulating, WRS said.
"This year, we extracted almost 1.8ml of a high-quality sample showing 92 per cent sperm vitality, and with that the veterinary team feels hopeful for a panda pregnancy later this year,” Dr Luz said.
The team kept a "round-the-clock watch" on Jia Jia's estrogen levels this year and successfully identified the peak within her ovulation window, said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, WRS' deputy chief executive officer and chief life sciences officer.
"The artificial insemination procedure went very smoothly and we hope for good news later this year."
A team led by Professor Ng Soon Chye, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist, assisted the River Safari veterinary team for the third year.
It is now a waiting game, explained WRS, as giant pandas have delayed implantation and a pregnancy (or pseudo pregnancy) cannot be determined until the later part of the panda's gestation period.
In Jia Jia's case, this falls between August and September.
The two pandas, which are loaned to Singapore by the Chinese government for 10 years, arrived in Singapore in 2012. Kai Kai will turn 11 and Jia Jia will turn 10 in September.