Maybe all they needed was a little privacy.
A pair of giant pandas had sex for the first time in a decade on Monday, stunning zookeepers who were watching over them during a coronavirus lockdown at a theme park in Hong Kong.
Ying Ying and Le Le have essentially been roommates at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park for 13 years, as all efforts to get them to breed have failed. The endangered animals also have a notoriously weak libido, which gives them a window of only a few days each year to do the deed.
All that sexual tension must have boiled over during the park’s coronavirus lockdown on Monday, when Le Le finally put the moves on Ying Ying without any encouragement.
Zookeepers knew the pandas were entering their mating window, and they had cameras set up to capture every magical moment of the mating session on film. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Staff at the park say they won’t know if Ying Ying is pregnant until late June. However, the fact that the pandas mated on their own is considered an encouraging sign.
“Since Ying Ying and Le Le’s arrival in Hong Kong in 2007 and attempts at natural mating since 2010, they unfortunately have yet to succeed until this year upon years of trial and learning,” Michael Boos, executive director in zoological operations and conservation at Ocean Park, told the New York Times.
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“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.”
Park staff have tried to get the animals to conceive naturally and through artificial insemination over the last 10 years, but none of those efforts worked. They were entered into China’s national breeding program in 2015, which helped Ying Ying get pregnant. However, the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
Ocean Park has been closed since January due to the threat of COVID-19, meaning the pandas have had more privacy than usual.
With no end to the lockdown in sight, perhaps the pandas will get bored enough to get back together for Round 2.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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—With files from Reuters
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