We have another baby panda on the way! But this time, let's all try to remain cool about it.
The last time this happened in Thailand, little Lin Ping became an overnight sensation, a massive tourist draw for the Chiang Mai Zoo, subject of a name-that-cub contest, and got her own 24-hour TV channel. Superstardom is not the ideal lifestyle for giant pandas, though. They prefer to be left alone to munch on their bamboo leaves, thank you very much.
Lin Ping, the offspring of a panda couple that China loaned to Thailand in 2003, left her millions of fans in tears when she returned to China two years ago, though her life’s been happy ever since. In April we learned that she was pregnant through a natural mating and on July 27 she gave birth to two daughters of her own.
Lovely, but Thais want another cute cub here to worship, so the pressure’s been on Lin Ping’s parents, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, to get on with expanding the family. God, however, instilled in pandas an exasperating stubbornness when it comes to reproduction. The female is in heat just two or three days a year. The male really couldn’t care less about sex, not when there’s all that fine bamboo in need of eating.
Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui did have a go at mating, but obviously with insufficient enthusiasm, and initial efforts at artificial insemination didn’t alter the course of family history either. The day after Lin Ping departed for China, which happened to be her mum’s birthday – September 28, 2013 – Lin Hui did manage to become pregnant through another artificial attempt, earning a fresh round of headlines.
But then, last February, she miscarried. As if we really wanted the gross details, the research team explained that it had noticed discharges, with part of the embryo ejected and the rest re-absorbed into the mother’s body. They assured us this was quite normal for pandas.
At last, in June, the zoo announced that the couple had come through after all, and Lin Hui appeared to be pregnant again thanks to a combination of natural and artificial wooing. Not wishing to raise hopes unduly, the veterinary team led by Dr Boripat Siri-aroonrat waited until a few days ago to declare her officially expecting, as confirmed by an ultrasound scan that spotted “at least one” foetus.
In fact the zoo is maintaining a 24-hour watch because Lin Hui could give birth anytime. She’d carried Lin Ping for 97 days and today is Day 88 of the current term, but again, you never know with pandas. It would be truly amazing if the baby pops out on September 28, the day Lin Hui turns 14. (Proud papa Chuang Chuang is 15.)
With the panda parents contracted to remain in Thailand until at least 2023, the zoo is determined to be a more responsible godfather to the new baby. Should Lin Hui successfully give birth, the little one will be strictly kept clear of human interference – no pop-star treatment, no TV show, just the usual accoutrements bestowed on wildlife in captivity.
Well, maybe they’ll have a name-that-cub contest.