All It Took for These Zoo Pandas to Mate Was for Humans to Go Away

It must have been quite a relief for both pandas to finally seal the deal. Lee Yiu Tung/Shutterstock

Expectations were sky-high for a couple of giant pandas when they first arrived at Ocean Park more than a decade ago. Staff at the Hong Kong zoo hoped these majestic animals would develop a special relationship, and maybe even start a family.

With only 1,864 left in the wild, the species could certainly use some propping up.

But a funny thing sometimes happens when all eyes are on you. The pandas seemed to suffer a 10-year bout of performance anxiety.

Despite the zoo's best efforts to get Ying Ying, the female, and Le Le to do the deed, it just didn't click between them.

"Male and female giant pandas are sexually mature starting at ages of seven and five respectively," Michael Boos, executive director in zoological operations and conservation at Ocean Park notes in a press release. "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."

But then, at around 9 a.m. on Monday, after 10 years of pretending to be "just friends," the pair of 14-year-old pandas added benefits to their relationship. Zoo officials were understandably elated.

"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," Boos explains in the release.

"We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species."

So what suddenly changed between Ying Ying an Le Le? Well, it's possible that, like all of us, they couldn't perform while all eyes were on them.

But pandas can also be finicky when it comes to sexual relations. Things really do have to be just right. Since female pandas only ovulate once a year — and for a very short time — the male panda has to pounce relatively quickly.

Miss that slender slice of ovulation time and the male will have to wait a whole year before trying again. Besides that, pandas often won't hook up unless they genuinely like each other.

In any case, back in March, things started heating up between them.

Ying Ying was spending more time than usual luxuriating by the waters edge. And Le Le was scent-marking everywhere. He also seemed to really get into Ying Ying's scent wherever he found it.

To zoo staff, it could only mean one thing: They were speaking the language of panda love.

And when the zoo went into lockdown later that month — and the pandas were no longer under the steady gaze of visitors — that love was finally consummated.