WASHINGTON — D.C.’s favorite panda mom of three may very soon become pregnant again.
The National Zoo’s 18-year-old Mei Xiang appeared to be in heat during the past couple of days, and reproductive scientists with the National Zoo and the Conservation Biology Institute took that rare opportunity to artificially inseminate the panda on Thursday.
Scientists and zookeepers monitored Mei Xiang’s behavior and hormone levels. According to a news release, the panda’s estrogen levels peaked Wednesday, which marks ovulation or when she’s able to become pregnant.
For female pandas, that’s a small window of 24 to 72 hours each year.
But of course, zoo staff were hoping to opt for a more natural baby panda conception.
They monitored Mei Xiang and 19-year-old Tian Tian for breeding behaviors, though the pandas have not successfully bred in the past. And though both pandas showed signs of wanting to breed this time around, their timing was incompatible.
With no natural breeding happening this season, the National Zoo staff decided to artificially inseminate Mei Xiang with Tian Tian’s semen — one procedure at 2 p.m., and another at 11:30 p.m.
Veterinarians will conduct ultrasounds for the next couple of months to see if Mei Xiang is pregnant. Ultrasounds are the best way to determine a pregnancy, since the panda’s hormone and behavior can indicate pregnancy even if it’s actually a false pregnancy. Panda pregnancies last between three and six months.
If Mei Xiang becomes pregnant, her new cub would be born around the end of September, zoo officials said.
For now, it’s all a waiting game to determine whether Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei will have a new addition to their sibling squad.
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