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Panda undergoes artificial insemination at National Zoo

Saturday - 3/30/2013, 2:09pm  ET

pandahouseclosed.JPG
The Panda House at the National Zoo was closed Saturday after Mei Xiang underwent an artificial insemination procedure. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)

Jamie Forzato, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The National Zoo is giving mother nature a hand.

Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are ready to breed, but they only have a one- to two-day window.

"Their behavior and hormones indicated that breeding season was upon us, so we gave them a chance to get together last night," says Brandie Smith, National Zoo Senior Curator and Curator of Giant Pandas. "They indicated that the time was right, but our pandas have some challenges with positioning."

Instead, Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated early Saturday morning.

In a statement, the National Zoo described the procedure: "During the artificial insemination, the team of scientists and veterinarians used a combination of fresh semen collected from Tian Tian early this morning and frozen semen collected from Tian Tian in 2003."

Smith says they will monitor Mei Xiang's hormone levels and conduct ultrasounds over the next several months.

"We probably won't know until the end of summer or early fall if she really is pregnant or if it's a pseudo-pregnancy," Smith says.

The panda house was closed Saturday but will reopen on Sunday.

Last year, Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub. Even though it died 10 days later, Smith isn't discouraged this spring.

"We know that she can get pregnant and we're very hopeful that Mei Xiang will have a cub this year," Smith says.

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