The only female giant panda in Britain is not pregnant after all, Edinburgh Zoo has confirmed.
The zoo revealed that Tian Tian was believed to be pregnant in August but said a due date was hard to predict.
However, test have now found that the panda’s hormone levels and behaviour have returned to normal “as the breeding cycle ends for this year”.
Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: “It is with sadness that we can confirm Tian Tian, Edinburgh Zoo’s resident female giant panda, will not give birth to cubs this year.
“Our tests show that her hormone levels and behaviour have returned to normal as the breeding cycle ends for this year.
“I would like to thank the expert team of keepers, veterinary staff and others who have shown dedication and tenacity throughout the last nine months to ensure Tian Tian received the very best round-the-clock care.
“Her welfare is our top priority and the hard work of our expert team continues to make a significant contribution to the conservation of giant pandas internationally.”
Tian Tian was artificially inseminated earlier this year and had been closely monitored by experts.
News of the insemination had been kept under wraps by the zoo following five previous attempts failed to produce a cub since Tian Tian (Sweetie) arrived in Edinburgh with male Yang Guang (Sunshine) in 2011.
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The pair, who are on loan from China for a decade, are the only giant pandas living in the UK.
Barbara Smith, chief executive of RZSS, said: “There was great excitement when early tests indicated that Tian Tian was pregnant. Like everyone, we are sad that the pregnancy did not result in cubs this time around.
“Giant panda breeding is an incredibly complex, unpredictable process. Over the next few weeks, we will be working closely with our Chinese partners to review not only this year’s breeding season but all the scientific data from the past five years, to help us better understand this complex process.
“This year our expert team has gathered more information than ever, which will be shared with our partners both here in Scotland and across the globe for review and learnings to be applied.”
Tian Tian has previously given birth to twins in China but panda reproduction is a notoriously tricky process, with females only ovulating once a year.
Ms Smith added: “I am incredibly proud of the work that takes place at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and we remain hopeful that successful giant panda breeding will be possible in the future.
“It is important too to emphasise the crucial role RZSS is playing in giant panda conservation success internationally. Last year the giant panda was reclassified from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ in the wild, and RZSS can be justly proud of our efforts in safeguarding the future of the species, supporting over 30 conservation projects in China.
“We will continue to work with the Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas (CCRCGP), the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and the team at the University of Edinburgh to learn from our giant pandas. I thank them for their continued support.”