Panda in Belgium due to give birth imminently if indeed pregnant

Wed May 18, 2016 7:28am EDT
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A giant panda could give birth "at any moment" if her artificial insemination earlier this year was successful, her keepers in a Belgian zoo said on Wednesday, saying they could not be absolutely sure she was pregnant.

Hao Hao was treated early this year by an international team who hope the artificial insemination will see her reproduce with her mate Xing Hui. Pairi Daiza zoo near Mons said in a statement that urine tests, swollen teets and the six-year-old panda's behavior suggested a "possible, even probable" pregnancy.

Panda pregnancies, famously rare in captivity and outside of China, are notoriously hard to establish or predict: "If the apparent pregnancy is confirmed, we expect the baby between now and early summer," the zoo said. "It could be born any moment."

An endangered species, panda cubs are very vulnerable, being about the size of a rat, and often do not survive the first weeks. The last successful birth in Europe was in Madrid in 2013.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Xing Hui, a 6-year-old giant panda born in China, is seen in his enclosure at the Pairi Daiza wildlife park in Brugelette, Belgium September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir