All about forests, rivers, oceans
Australia orders Japanese whalers to stay away
Esther Woolfson's urban nature diary
Ladbrokes is gambling with fish extinction and so is the government
US wildlife officials propose endangered status for wolverines
The hare's death-scream tells of a history soon over
The ethics of keeping a killer cat
It's as if the landscape and stream are caught amid their own owl dreams
Many more seabirds may be affected by Channel pollution, RSPB says
Leading paper firm pledges to halt Indonesian deforestation
Fishing campaigners urge MEPs to vote for discards reform
Dog attack law to be extended to cover incidents on private property
The return of grey wolves 'not enough to restore Yellowstone's ecosystem'
Oil additive polymer PIB may be responsible for seabird deaths
MEPs vote to ban discards in historic reform of fishing policy
All dogs in England to be microchipped by 2016
Some of nature's mysteries are all the better for going unsolved
First the internet, now Monopoly cats have got our attention
Polar bears 'may need to be fed by humans to survive'
Invasive mussel poses ecological and economic threat to island community
Ancestor of humans and other mammals was small furry insect eater
Conflict in DRC Congo threatens chimpanzee tourism programme
The intruder, a raven, passed through the treetops into view
The horsemeat scandal: could there be much more to come?
Circuses remove last of the big cats from UK's big tops
  Pandas keep Scotland guessing over mating game
It is not hard to get all protective and infantile when you observe dimly your first giant panda through a glass partition. "Look, his wee pond is all iced over. Won't it hurt his wee paws when he goes for a drink?" I ask the keeper at Edinburgh Zoo. "No, they prefer cold temperatures and they enjoy smashing the ice with their paws," she replies.

I grew up in an era when Johnny Morris was king of animal television and so I have a habit of personalising the behaviour of animals, as Johnny used to do, when I watch wildlife programmes. Often I ascribe Glaswegian vernacular to them. Thus, lions and tigers are always "big" and they say things to each other like: "Ahm starvin', big man, let's go and jump a few of those antelopes for wur lunch."

At the panda enclosure last week I was at it again. Yang Guang, the male of the pair currently engaging the gawping hordes, was sitting underneath his tree chomping on bamboo shoots. Unlike other wild beasts, he is happy to hold eye contact. I fancy he is challenging us. "Have you got a problem, pal?" You can also see why people are enchanted by them. The big black patches on their face make them childlike. And when Tian Tian (Sweetie) is seated and eating, she seems very human in her movements.

Yes, Edinburgh's two giant pandas have swung to the rescue of headline writers again. Yang Guang and Tian Tian's keepers have begun to observe behaviour that suggests that they may be about to mate.

Tian Tian has been calling out to Yang Guang (Sunshine) in the compound next door. Sunshine has been doing handstands and marking his territory in all sorts of ways. "Ah'm up for the Cup," he'd be telling his pals. It's the perfect feelgood story for the spring.

The female is in season for a mere two days and the show may be all over inside a minute. The keepers will expect to know when the time is right by a series of signals that will include Tian Tian's temperature readings. The male is prone to be more aggressive at this stage and the keepers are acutely aware that Yang Guang can be inadvertently harmed while mating.

Scotland has been treated to mini treatises on how male giant pandas set about "marking their territory". On the Scotsman's front page, underneath a picture of Yang Guang's trapeze routine, the caption read: "Tian Tian has started calling out to Yang Guang, who has been peering into her cage." Surely there's a typo in there?

Staff members at the zoo are cautiously optimistic that mating could take place as early as next week. Under the terms of the agreement with the Beijing government which underpins the 10-year panda project, though, any baby panda must be sent to China after two years. After that it will participate in China's breeding programme in the wild and never see Scotland again. In effect, Scotland has rented the pandas for this period, which started on their arrival 14 months ago. The annual fee is around £700,000 plus food and sundries. Home for each of the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo is an enclosure the size of a small kitchen showroom. It's a split-level number with a cave, a pond, and some shrubbery on a grass and rock terrain. Quite how the pandas will feel after 10 years of prowling this same patch is open to suggestion. The zoo insists it has a robust "enrichment" programme in which they are trained to do exercises and are made to "hunt" for food, which, although they are carnivores, consists almost solely of bamboo.

It's clear that all those engaged in the welfare of the pandas work hard to ensure their wellbeing. But that is if you can believe any beast can be comfortable pacing up and down the same artificial strip of piece of turf for 10 years.

The zoo is sensitive about any criticism of the beasts' mental welfare. "While we cannot replace their habitat in the wild, we can ensure the animals in our collections have everything they need to lead a safe, healthy and fulfilling life. It's very easy to forward our own emotions onto animals and become anthropomorphic in our views towards them. This is unfair to the animals as they do not think that way."

How do they know? Is there not a case for simply letting these extraordinary-looking creatures take their chances with nature's indiscriminate pruning fork? No species has a sacrosanct right to everlasting life and surely it would be better to die out while living free rather than appear in this endless circus. Iain Valentine, director of conservation and research at the zoo, has heard it all before. "Pandas have existed on earth for between four million and eight million years," he said. "Their problems only started when we arrived and began to make our presence felt. We have a moral duty to conserve them and to educate people about their habitat, health and the threats they face."

John Robins, of Animal Concern, is a persistent critic of the panda project which he describes as a "tawdry, geo-political carve-up". Whatever else the agreement may be about the pandas' mental and physical welfare is not the primary objective, he says. "China has turned its panda reserves into vulgar theme parks where people stage marriage ceremonies and the rich buy holiday homes. I'd much rather see the £1m or so spent in lobbying the Chinese government to develop proper national parks where the pandas can roam free. We shouldn't be breeding them for this questionable purpose."

In the viewing room another group of 50 or so visitors are willing Tian Tian to do something that will make their entrance fee worthwhile. The children are outnumbered by the adults, one of whom thinks it's a good idea to use flash photography as he aims his camera at the beast. How long though, will this national novelty last; of pressing your nose up against a window and watching a largely inert animal eat and sleep again and again and again?

If a new baby panda appears later this year in Edinburgh, it will be a great time for Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, to bury bad news. For this will be a historically unique event of seismic proportions: the world's first Scottish panda. But will it come out for an independent Scotland? And can we please call it something normal like Colin or Tracey, rather than Twinkle or anything else too cutesy?
In the British countryside, alien species are not always undesirables
Pandas keep Scotland guessing over mating game
US plan to control Guam's snake population with toxic mice angers Peta
African lions the killer kings in mortal danger from man and sham medicine
EU fish discards deal welcomed by UK
Pilot badger culls set to go ahead
Scientist calls Hugh's Fish Fight 'a tawdry piece of hack journalism'
A couple of interesting visitors have arrived at the lakes in the past week
Sea Shepherd conservation group declared 'pirates' in US court ruling
Schmallenberg virus found in farm animals in almost all of Britain
Gardens: wildlife surveys
Tackling the illegal trade in wild animals is a matter of global urgency
100 million sharks killed each year, say scientists
The snipe's 'drumming' sound is perfectly evocative of Welsh hill country
Sharks at risk of extinction from overfishing, say scientists
Thailand's prime minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade
Humans are not the only animals to enjoy alcohol
China must send a clear message to consumers on ivory trade
Google shopping adverts fuel ivory trade, conservation group warns
Two-thirds of forest elephants killed by ivory poachers in past decade
US and Russia unite in bid to strengthen protection for polar bear
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Above the loch, the scene was dominated by the abundant birch trees
Lion kills intern at California animal sanctuary
Bid to halt polar bear trade fails
Deer culling on massive scale backed by expert
Scores on the paws: how one man changed the shape of dogs to come
Cites: bid to curb sale of ivory and rhino horn voted down
Geoffrey Matthews obituary
World's largest captive crocodile dies in Philippines
Urban foxes: the facts and the fiction
Albatross astonishes scientists by producing chick at age of 62
Knut the polar bear lifesize model to go on show in Berlin
Horsemeat scandal: Owner of Yorkshire abattoir denies wrongdoing
Foxes' friends and foes say an urban cull is not the answer
Golfer pierces leg with tee to remove spider venom then finishes round
Chinese appetite for shark fin soup devastating Mozambique coastline
A peregrine stands on one foot and imperiously looks out from her ledge
Action on dangerous dogs has been 'woefully inadequate', MPs warn
Why Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight is still necessary
What the horsemeat scandal and fish quotas tell us about Europe
New to nature No 99: Phagocata flamenca
We can overlook the aesthetics of gulls, but they make grey beautiful again
Birdwatch: Stonechat
Environment Pollution Pollution that killed seabirds cannot be traced, rules investigation
Communities of voices the link between birdsong and spoken language
Bid to solve mystery of 50,000 red-breasted geese lost in migration
How a ferret took me on a journey to a saner world
Panda eyes focused as Yang Guang and Tian Tian seek each other out
So entrancing are the clouds that the deer are unnoticed until I shift my gaze
Anyone for camelcino? Camel milk set to be big business for east Africa
Red squirrel finds pine marten a fearsome ally in its fight for survival
Visit Statistics