Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Zoo was closed after authorities announced the coronavirus pandemic. Since the closure and lack of crowds, two of its pandas have mated for the first time in a decade of captivity.
The 14-year-old pandas Ying Ying and her male counterpart Le Le were spotted by handlers mating last Monday morning, said a zoo statement released alongside images of the event.
Zoo officials are hoping a pregnancy will result, but won’t be able to confirm a baby with an ultrasound until around 14 to 17 days before the birth.
Michael Boos, Ocean Park’s executive director in zoological operations and conservation, released a statement explaining the chances of a natural pregnancy occurring are much higher than artificial insemination.
“The successful natural mating process today is extremely exciting for all of us, as the chance of pregnancy via natural mating is higher than by artificial insemination. We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species,” Boos said.
Although the empty zoo might have influenced the pandas, zoo officials say the pandas were signalling a readiness to mate in the weeks leading up to the closure.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species listed the panda as an “endangered” species and recently reclassified the panda as “vulnerable.”