An animal biologist from The University of Western Australia is among a large team of international researchers biting their fingernails as they wait to learn whether their bid to impregnate a rare giant panda in Scotland has paid off.
Experts from around the world, including rare and endangered mammal expert, UWA Associate Professor Monique Paris, flew to Scotland last month in a bid to help Edinburgh Zoo's treasured giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, become parents.
With only one 36-hour breeding window each year, the panda pair needed all the help they could get. Although Tian Tian has given birth before and Yang Guang has previously fathered cubs, the pandas - which arrived in Scotland from China in December 2011 - were unsuccessful during last year's brief mating season.
Research Associate Professor Monique Paris, who co-founded the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals, was among those brought in to help artificially inseminate Tian Tian. Others included specialists from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Centre for Integrative Physiology at Edinburgh University, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, the Roslin Institute, the Centre for Integrative Physiology at Edinburgh University, the Chinese Bifengxia Panda Base, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Chester Zoo.
Dr Paris, a specialist in wildlife biology and expert in monitoring female hormones during the reproductive cycle in a wide range of endangered species, had the critical task of making sure the early ovulation signs in the giant panda were picked up.
"Hormone monitoring is the most appropriate tool we have right now," Dr Paris said. "If we can detect the onset of oestrus in Tian Tian using these sophisticated techniques, then the pandas have the best chance to produce a baby."
The signs were successfully picked up and, in the early hours of April 21, the team performed artificial insemination.
They now face an anxious wait, along with Edinburgh zookeepers, to see if the attempt was successful. It will be late July or August before they can confirm a pregnancy, and if all goes well the zoo could welcome a much-wanted baby panda - or twins - by September.
"It would be amazing to have a panda cub born in Edinburgh, both in terms of public awareness for this special creature, but also for the overall biodiversity of our natural world," Dr Paris said.
As part of a deal between Edinburgh Zoo and Chinese authorities - under which the zoo will keep Yang Guang and Tian Tian for 10 years - any cubs produced by the pair will remain at the zoo for two years before being sent back to China. At that age, they would be independent of their mothers in the wild.
IBREAM was founded in Edinburgh by Dr Paris, its research director, and Professor Bob Millar. It specialises in breeding endangered African mammals and has a strong partnership with RZSS, working with it collaboratively in recent years on panda and other breeding initiatives.