The future is uncertain for the San Diego Zoo’s panda breeding program.
Gao Gao, one of the zoo’s giant pandas, is recovering from surgery to remove his right testicle due to the presence of a tumor.
Zoo officials say the one-hour procedure Tuesday was a success and veterinarians are hopeful Gao Gao will make a full recovery.
“(He is) a little bit subdued today after the long day of anesthesia yesterday, but he's doing well," said Gaylene Thomas, Animal Care Manager at the San Diego Zoo.
Gao Gao is estimated to be about 24 years old and is father to five panda cubs born at the zoo. It's unclear if he will continue to be part of the panda breeding population.
"We don't know if he's going to be viable for breeding after this procedure. It could've impacted that,” Thomas said. “Also, we have to look at his age. He is a geriatric panda and that could be a factor in his breeding capacity in the future as well."
Besides attracting some three million visitors a year, the zoo’s panda program serves other purposes.
"We've done different studies on olfactory senses, mother-cub relationships, breeding behaviors. So some of those studies can continue on,” Thomas said.
Gao Gao is not the only factor. Bai Yun is 22 years old and did not go through her breeding cycle this year.
“It could mean she's just not having an estrus this year or it could mean that she's post-reproductive and that could be it for her breeding seasons," Thomas explained.
The Ministry of Forestry for the People's Republic of China was informed about Gao Gao's health and gave approval for the surgery. All of the zoo's pandas are on loan from China.
The zoo could not say if new pandas would be brought from China if the breeding program ends.