Panda cubs by the dozen coming soon
China expects a record number of giant panda cubs to be born this year, with 10 pandas already pregnant and another 23 in oestrus at two giant panda breeding and research bases in the southwestern Sichuan Province.
Qizhen, a four-and-half-year-old female panda at the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base in the provincial capital Chengdu has been declared pregnant shortly after she found her first-ever Mr Right at the base.
Qizhen became the 10th female giant panda to become pregnant this year, said Zhang Zhihe, director of base's breeding technology committee.
Zhang and his colleagues will use state-of-the-art artificial fertilization technologies to impregnate female pandas in oestrus: including 13 at the Chengdu base and 10 at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centre.
"We expect to welcome a record number of panda cubs by this autumn," said Zhang.
In 2003, 19 baby pandas were born via natural or artificial insemination in China's breeding bases and 16 of them survived.
The survival rate of panda cubs has risen markedly from 30 per cent several decades ago to nearly 90 per cent in recent years as a result of better feeding and monitoring.
Giant pandas show little instinctive behaviour towards sex in captivity,since the animals tend to become fat, listless and out of shape.
Officials at some enclosures have been trying to put the rare mammals on exercise programs.
Forestry authority statistics show fewer than 10 per cent of male giant pandas mate naturally and fewer than 30 per cent of females end up conceiving after trysts with panda romeos.
Female pandas normally are mature enough for mating at age four or five and have only one chance for pregnancy each year. They deliver one or two tiny, helpless cubs after a 160 day gestation period.
Chinese zoologists have worked hard to breed the bears, resorting to artificially introducing frozen semen and even showing the panda videos of other bears mating trying to arouse their latent sexual instincts.
The country has made remarkable progress. Ten cubs were born 2002, with 16 last year.
There are 160 giant pandas in captivity worldwide, two-thirds of which are living at Wolong and Chengdu.
s one of the most endangered species in the world, the number of pandas left is thought to be around 1,000, with most living in the high mountains in Southwest China.