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FLORA AND FAUNA
A European bear's point of view, finally on film
by Staff Writers
Toulouse, France (AFP) April 15, 2014


Britain's love-shy panda artificially inseminated
London (AFP) April 15, 2014 - Britain's only female giant panda, Tian Tian, has been artificially inseminated after failing to mate with her male partner Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo said Tuesday.

Experts had been hopeful the pair, donated by China in 2011, would mate this breeding season but Tian Tian's hormone levels plummeted before they had the chance.

"Time restrictions meant we needed to move quickly to artificial insemination," said Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

The procedure took place on Sunday but it will not be clear whether Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth, which could be in August or September.

Both pandas recovered quickly from the insemination process, with Yang Guang enjoying honey and bamboo 15 minutes later, the zoo said. Their enclosure will remain closed to the prying eyes of the public until Wednesday.

Tian Tian, whose name means Sweetie, was also artificially inseminated last year but the zoo suffered a huge disappointment when she had a late-term miscarriage.

This year, Valentine said that "from the start, when the pandas started to show breeding behaviour early this spring, both were showing very positive signs.

"We were hopeful natural mating would occur this year, but in the end Tian Tian's hormones started to fall quickly, which meant her breeding window could be much shorter."

A Chinese expert was "confident" the pair would mate naturally but the zoo went ahead with artificial insemination using semen from Yang Guang, fearing that time would run out.

The zoo acquired Tian Tian and Yang Guang, whose name means Sunshine, from China in December 2011 but the pair have so far failed to mate.

Pandas, whose natural habitat lies in mountainous southwestern China, have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss. China has about 1,600 pandas living in the wild.

Their normal breeding season is mid-April to May.

They love their larvae, snore like troopers when they sleep on their sides and, for reasons unknown, get a kick out of pushing over the trunks of dead trees.

Those are just a few of the insights into the daily life of Europe's dwindling band of brown bears obtained as a result of an innovative film project being shown as part of a hit exhibition at the Natural History museum in Toulouse, in southwestern France.

The museum teamed up with authorities in Slovenia and the wildlife filmmaker Michel Tonelli to capture an intimate record of the daily activities of a female bear living in the Slovenian highlands thanks to a camera attached to a GPS-enabled collar she was fitted with.

The experiment, which has never been done before with European brown bears, did not produce any startling new revelations about their lives, but it did offer a glimpse into the world seen from the point of view of an animal that conservationists struggle to observe acting naturally.

"This enabled us to get inside the bear's black box, their own universe," said Henri Cap, a zoologist at the museum.

"For example, when the bear goes past a cabin where she has obviously had a bad experience in the past, she turns on her heels and gets out of there immediately.

"It is disturbing to watch, the fear of humans, but it also shows a capacity for rational thought. That might surprise some but everyone who works with bears knows they are extremely intelligent animals."

The bear, named Tolosa after the Roman name for Toulouse, was filmed shaking a rowan tree to release the berries and displaying an extraordinarily delicate touch as she gathers tiny larvae to eat.

Tolosa, who was estimated to be about five years old, also displays a penchant for knocking over dead trees: for fun or to provide insects with an ideal environment to produce more of the yummy larvae? Scientists just don't know.

The images are available on the Internet at: http://www.museum.toulouse.fr/-/dans-les-yeux-de-l-ourse-via-une-camera-embarquee?redirect=/explorer.

They form part of a major exhibition on bears which organisers are hoping to take to Paris and Barcelona once the Toulouse run is finished in June.

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