Conscious uncoupling? Hong Kong’s favorite pandas could be sent to Sichuan, split up if they fail to conceive

Ocean Park pandas Ying Ying and Le Le. Screengrab via Apple Daily video.
Ocean Park pandas Ying Ying and Le Le. Screengrab via Apple Daily video.

Two popular giant pandas in Hong Kong could be returned to Sichuan province to find new mates if they fail to conceive.

Ying Ying and Le Le, both 13 years old, were given to the city as a gift from the Chinese central government to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the handover in 2007. But in the eight years since the pandas moved into Ocean Park, the pair still haven’t conceived.

You could have been forgiven for thinking this was an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, had it not been for the fact that talk of this possibility has been circulating since November. However, this is the first time authorities have suggested that Ying Ying and Le Le might be better off seeing other pandas.

In November, Liu Hongbao, director of the Sichuan Forestry Department, said Hong Kong’s warm weather was one possible reason as to why Ying Ying still hasn’t been able to conceive (the sweet spot is apparently somewhere between minus 10 and 25 degrees Celsius). But speaking to reporters yesterday after a tour of a nature reserve in the province, Liu said it was possible that Ying Ying just isn’t that into Le Le.

Ouch.

Liu, accompanied by Ocean Park CEO Matthias Li Sing-chung and other panda experts, was touring the Wolong National Nature Reserve, which has a breeding center for pandas. Both Ying Ying and Le Le were born in Wolong, and it’s home to 451 captive pandas, Ming Pao reports.

Ocean Park’s Li told reporters at a press conference that the pandas have entered the breeding season, which runs from February until May.

“Under this circumstance, no matter what the discussion result is, I think the chance of sending them back is very low,” said Li, who maintained any plans to return the pandas to Wolong were not set in stone.

One giant panda expert, Li Desheng, told reporters yesterday that pandas are very selective in mating, and that if the pair moved to Sichuan, they might have a wider selection of potential mates to choose from, Apple Daily reports.

At the moment, Li Desheng said, “Le Le can only choose Ying Ying, and Ying Ying can only choose Le Le.”

This would not be Ying Ying’s first trip to Sichuan. In 2015, the female panda was sent to the province without Le Le in a bid to get her pregnant. While it’s unclear if handlers used artificial insemination, or if she did indeed mate with a male, Ying Ying was impregnated at the time. Unfortunately, she suffered a miscarriage in October of that year.


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