EXPERTS at Chester Zoo are playing a vital role in a project to breed giant pandas in Scotland.

Scientists at the zoo have been tasked by their counterparts at Edinburgh Zoo to predict exactly when panda Tian Tian will be fertile.

As part of their work, they are monitoring hormone changes in the female panda to see when she is ready to mate and latest results show the time is now close.

According to endocrinology technician Rebecca Purcell, samples of Tian Tian’s urine have been taken from Edinburgh to Chester every day for the last month to keep a close eye on any changes.

She said: “Every day for the last month, samples of Tian Tian’s urine have been couriered from Edinburgh to Chester.

"We’ve then been performing a series of tests on the samples, looking specifically for changes in certain hormone concentrations.

“In particular we’ve been testing for levels of two hormones - oestrogen and progesterone. By tracking those, it enables us to predict when we think she will ovulate and thus, be the ideal time for her to be introduced to the male giant panda, Yang Guang.

“Finding this optimum time to put the pandas together is crucial in giving them the best possible chance of a successful mating.

“We’ve now seen a vital crossover in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone and so we now believe that time to be very close.”

Using hormone monitoring to predict oestrus is vital in giant pandas as females only come into season once a year for around 36 hours.

Introductions can only be made when the female is fully receptive to the male, otherwise they may fight and injure each other or the male may waste valuable energy in failed mating attempts.

Chester Zoo’s scientific manager Dr Sue Walker said: “It is well known that Edinburgh is home to giant pandas but perhaps less well known, is that 240 miles away here in a lab in Cheshire, we’re playing a key role in their attempts to breed cubs.”