After years of never-waiting and a number of frustrating failed pregnancies dating back five years, the National Zoo’s Mei Xiang gave birth to a baby panda cub at 10:46 p.m. on Sunday, said zoo officials. This is Mei Xiang’s first cub since Tai Shan — who we lovingly referred to as Butterstick — was born in 2005.
And in a curious twist of fate, the new cub was born of the same sperm that produced Butterstick.
Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated in April, an event that the National Zoo live-tweeted in its entirety. (The zoo used what they jokingly referred to as “vintage sperm” that had been frozen.) While zoo officials noted a rise in urinary progesterone, a hormone associated with pregnancy and pseudopregnancy, in late August, an ultrasound was unable to help shed any light on whether Mei Xiang would actually produce a cub this time.
The news of the pitter-patter of petite panda paws is even more joyful — and impressive — considering that scientists estimated her chances of conceiving another cub at 10 percent. Father Tian Tian was called a “clueless breeder with flawed technique,” and there was talk of the zoo replacing the pair with a more fertile duo come 2015. Zoo scientists attributed the new birth to Mei Xiang’s estrus cycle — unlike past years when she went into it in January, this year it waited until April.
With this new cub, Mei Xiang will stay at the zoo for at least the next four years. Zoo officials are waiting to catch a glimpse of the new cub, but it will be at least a week before they get a chance to examine either. On the zoo’s Panda Cam this morning, Mei Xiang could be seen cuddled up in hay, likely protecting her new butterstick-sized cub.
Now, we know it’s a little early, but the rush to name the little sucker begins anew. It’ll eventually get a formal name, but there’s nothing stopping us from giving it a cuter and more appropriate name. Suggestions are welcome, and we’ll forward the better ones along to zoo officials.