Mei Xiang's Pandemonium: Pregnant or Not?
D.C.’s only female giant panda, Mei Xiang, may be pregnant, and the National Zoo has closed part of its panda house to provide quiet for her.
Fourteen-year-old Mei Xiang, who gave birth to Tai Shan in 2005 and a cub that died in 2012, is now experiencing behavioral and hormonal changes indicative of pregnancy. Zoo spokeswoman Devin Murphy explained that the panda has shown sensitivity to noise and is building a nest. Scientists have also noticed a rise in her urinary progesterone for the second time since her artificial insemination on March 30.
After natural breeding attempts were unsuccessful, a veterinarian performed artificial insemination two times. In the first procedure, semen from Tian Tian, the National Zoo’s male panda, was used. The second used a combination of Tian Tian and the San Diego Zoo’s male panda Gao Gao’s semen.
If Mei Xiang is indeed pregnant, then Washingtonians can expect to welcome a new cub in 35 to 50 days.
However, Mei Xiang may not be pregnant and instead is experiencing a pseudopregancy. Female giant pandas often experience false pregnancies when they ovulate but do not conceive. It is difficult to determine whether the pregnancy is real because the signs of actual pregnancies also occur during pseudopregnancies. Also, fetuses do not develop until the final weeks of gestation and are extremely small, and ultrasounds do not provide conclusive answers. Newborn cubs are only about the size of a stick of butter, weighing between three and five ounces.
Although the section of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat nearest Mei Xiang’s den is closed to the public, panda enthusiasts can watch Mei Xiang online via the zoo’s panda cams at nationalzoo.si.edu.