Adelaide Zoo hopeful pandas Wang Wang and Fu Ni will stay in Australia as deadline looms
Adelaide Zoo panda Fu Ni turned out not to be pregnant despite showing signs. (ABC News: Sarah Hancock)
Adelaide Zoo’s pandas have again failed to conceive ahead of the deadline for them to return to China in November.
- Adelaide Zoo’s panda arrangement with China will end this year
- A vet revealed female panda Fu Ni had a ‘pseudo pregnancy’
- The Federal Government has funded their stay so far
Zoos SA is hoping for an extension to the 10-year loan arrangement that has kept Wang Wang and Fu Ni in Adelaide since 2009.
Chief executive Elaine Bensted said she would be “thrilled” for Adelaide Zoo to continue to be home to the Australia’s only giant pandas.
The Federal Government has funded their stay at a cost of about US$1 million per year through a loan from China, which officially owns all of the world’s pandas.
“Ultimately, the decision rests with the Australian Government as they provide the funding that goes to giant panda conservation in China,” Ms Bensted said.
“We’re talking with the Government and we hope to have an answer in the near future.
“We are confident that our purpose-built facilities and our experience in the last nine years give us the best chance possible to successfully breed giant pandas in the future.”
Adelaide Zoo chief executive Elaine Bensted with vet Ian Smith outside the zoo’s panda enclosure. (ABC News: Simon Royal)
The pandas’ enclosure at the Adelaide Zoo cost about $8 million to install.
Ms Bensted said it was “difficult to quantify” their contribution to zoo entry figures and the South Australian economy in general.
Fu Ni had ‘pseudo pregnancy’
The call for an extension to the loan arrangement has come as hormone tests and behavioural observations revealed Fu Ni had a “pseudo pregnancy”, rather than a real one.
She would have given birth to a cub by now if she was pregnant, Zoos SA said in a statement.
Zoos SA senior veterinarian Ian Smith said the team had been treating Fu Ni as though she was pregnant since September when two artificial inseminations were performed, but they were never able to confirm she was pregnant.
“It’s quite possible Fu Ni was at one stage pregnant, but the window has now passed during which time she would have given birth,” Mr Smith said.
“Hormonal and behavioural signs indicate she experienced either pseudo pregnancy or an unsuccessful pregnancy.
“During a pseudo pregnancy, hormonal changes and behaviours are identical to those of a true pregnancy, making it very difficult to determine if a giant panda is actually pregnant or not.
“Apart from a birth, the only definitive way to confirm pregnancy in pandas is through a comprehensive ultrasound examination where a foetus can be seen in the last few weeks of a pregnancy.”
This was Wang Wang and Fu Ni’s fifth attempt at breeding — this time through artificial insemination.
Panda diplomacy goes two ways
Adelaide Zoo secured its panda loan for Wang Wang and Fu Ni shortly after agreeing to supply uranium to China in 2006.
Former foreign minister and South Australian Alexander Downer brokered the deal which was welcomed by then prime minister John Howard.
“It’s important when you’re talking about billions of dollars of resource contracts and you’re talking about tens of thousands of students,” Mr Howard said.
“It’s also important to find in the relationship, the warmth and exhilaration that can come from the temporary residence of such lovely creatures.”
According to the state-owned China Daily newspaper, 70 per cent of the $US1 million loan fee goes directly towards the protection of natural habitats in China, while another 20 per cent supports the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding’s studies.
Mr Smith said one of Adelaide Zoo’s keepers travelled to China last year to study giant panda breeding.
“This study tour confirmed to us that we’re doing everything right at Adelaide Zoo,” he said.