Hope and excitement is building at the National Zoo, where the female giant panda Mei Xiang may be pregnant.
Zoo officials said Mei Xiang [pronounced May-Shong] is exhibiting a number of behavioral changes that could indicate pregnancy, including increased sensitivity to noise. The zoo has closed the Giant Panda House to give her some peace and quiet.
She is also sleeping more and building a nest of shredded bamboo, which she adds to at night. Keepers said Mei Xiang chose to sleep inside the panda house Wednesday rather than in the outdoor enclosure, another potential sign of pregnancy or pseudopregnancy.
Pseudopregnancy is where pandas do everything they would if they were pregnant but hormone levels return to baseline and females’ energy levels and behavior return to normal.
The zoo said the subtle changes in behavior became more pronounced this week. Mei Xiang is being closely monitored.
It’s no small matter when a member of one of the world’s most threatened species appears as if she might be about to add another to the world’s giant panda population.
Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated with sperm from fellow giant panda Tian Tian in March. The pair have previously given birth to three surviving panda cubs — Tai Shan, born July 9, 2005; Bao Bao, born Aug. 23, 2013; and Bei Bei, born Aug. 22, 2015. Tai Shan and Bao Bao now live in China, while Bei Bei is still a resident of the National Zoo in D.C.
The panda house is closed, but visitors can still see Tian Tian and Bei Bei outside in the yards, weather permitting.