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Predicting panda pregnancy proves problematic

06 September 2013

Dr Thong, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at IVF Scotland explains why Edinburgh Zoo’s giant panda pregnancy is still yet to be confirmed…

In humans, detecting a pregnancy is relatively easy. Over the counter pregnancy tests tend to be highly accurate. Doctor can also carry out reliable bood test to detect  a pregnancy hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). Unfortunately for Edinburgh Zoo, it just isn’t that easy with panda pregnancies. Scientists have long been researching new methods to confirm whether a giant panda is going to give birth.  The gigantic problem is that panda’s tends to have pseudo or phantom pregnancies. Phantom pregnancy is far less common in humans and whilst women with phantom pregnancy may have symptoms and signs of pregnancy, the urine or (preferably) blood test for hCG can be used to confirm pregnancy.

In the giant panda, indicators such as hormones or panda behaviour are not nearly as predictive. To compound the issue, the panda fetus is small and difficult to detect with ultrasound scan so imaging can also be problematic. There may be light at the end of the tunnel though, recent research suggests that a protein which is present in higher quantities during inflammation, and present in pregnant panda’s urine may be a useful indicator in detecting panda pregnancy. Unfortunately though, for the time being  it still remains much more difficult to diagnose pregnancy in pandas than in humans.

So for the meantime, Edinburgh Zoo’s panda experts will have to keep an expectant eye on their giant panda…and we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.

Come on Tian Tian……………