Animals

Tokyo Pandas Get Privacy in Short Baby-Making Window

Two giant pandas at Ueno Zoo have been given some private time in a bid to create a romantic environment.

Two giant pandas at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo have been given some private time in a bid to create a romantic environment in which the bashful creatures can mate.

Public viewing was halted on Thursday in the hope that male Ri Ri - who zookeepers confirmed has looked friskier in recent days - will take advantage of the fleeting window that female Shin Shin is in heat.

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"There's really only a couple of days a year when a panda can get pregnant," a spokesman from Ueno Zoo's education department told AFP.

"Pandas are solitary animals and the only time you will see them together is the mating season.

"Usually they just sit apart from each other chewing their food, but Ri Ri has been looking more amorous of late."

The cuddly creatures, both 10 years old, have a choice of two rooms in which to snuggle up to one another, although officials insist they will not interfere with the courting process.

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"There is a spare recreational room for them out the back," said the spokesman. "But we won't be giving them any special food or dimming the lights for them.

"Nobody knows what kind of mood to create for animals to feel romantic," he added. "They don't just get into the mood with soft lighting like humans."

Shin Shin, who was brought from China five years ago, just before the devastating tsunami in Japan's northeast, gave birth to a baby in 2012 but the cub died from pneumonia six days later. She had a phantom pregnancy in 2013 and the pandas have not bred since.

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Giant pandas are notoriously clumsy at mating, with males said to be bad at determining when a female is in the right frame of mind and often befuddled at knowing what to do next.

In the event the animals do feel compatible, sex is frequently over too quickly to impregnate the female, who is only receptive to the proposition for two or three days a year between February and May.

"It's true the females are picky," the zoo spokesman said. "In their natural habitat, they get to select the male."

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According to estimates, less than 2,000 giant pandas remain in the wild, in three provinces in south-central China.

Should Shin Shin rebuff Ri Ri's advances for a third straight year, Ueno Zoo will consider artificial insemination, the official confirmed.

"It remains an option but we'll see how they get on first," he said.

Female giant panda Shin Shin eats bamboo at Ueno Zoological Park in Tokyo.

A new study that t

racked giant pandas

in the wild reveals that the big bears don't always fit our preconceived notions about them. Did you know they're a lot more flirtatious in the wild than their difficult mating experiences in captivity would suggest? With this fresh look at pandas in the news, we thought we'd offer up a gallery and a true fact or two about these wondrous creatures. Enjoy!

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In the wild, giant pandas call broadleaf and coniferous forests home. They're the kinds of forests that have torrential rains and are shrouded in mist much of the time.

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On all fours, giant pandas stand anywhere from 2 to 3 feet tall to the shoulder. They're typically 4 to 6 feet long. If you've seen an American black bear, then you have a rough idea of their size. The males weigh in at about 250 pounds, while the females tend to top out lighter, at around 220 pounds.

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The World Conservation Union's "Red List" of threatened species lists giant pandas as endangered, with only about 1,600 left in the wild.

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While adult giant pandas are typically solitary, they do socialize from time to time. Offspring, meanwhile, will stay with their moms for up to 3 years before they go out to make a living on their own.

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Giant pandas spend much of their time resting -- when they're not eating food or looking for food to eat.

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Bamboo shoots are chock-full of water, so giant pandas get plenty of H2O from them, alongside long cool drinks from streams and rivers.

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Though the world grows smaller by the day, we still have a lot to learn about how these giants live and behave in the wild. From firsthand observations to electronic "

stalking

," one thing is for sure: We'll keep an eye on them.

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