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Yuan Zi was "more at ease with the approach and the mating than in previous years", while Huan Huan, in heat, was "very interested".

The pandas' keepers and vets won't be holding their breath for success, as there are no guarantees of pregnancy even after several rounds of amorous activity.

But the team felt that the performance "was rather good", and gave kudos to the panda male who "has made progress" since last year, according the zoo's chief vet, Baptiste Mulot.

"He has a better idea of what to do," he said. The zoo said "high-pitched sounds" from the female and "more husky" ones from the male gave the encounters their rhythm, "which is normal and a good sign".

But for good measure the team added an artificial insemination during the night with the help of German specialists flown in for the operation which involved anaesthetising the pandas briefly.

Any pregnancy should be detected within two weeks, but even that would not necessarily spell success, as pandas often experience pseudo-pregnancies that fail to produce an embryo.

Huan Huan in 2017 gave birth to Yuan Meng, the first panda born in France, after an artificial insemination.

Now grown to around his mother's size, the young panda is this year to be sent to China where 500 pandas live in captivity and 2,000 in the wild.

Caption: Female panda Huan Huan lies on a platform inside her enclosure after zoo keepers attempted to mate her at the Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan, Central France on March 20, 2021

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