Yesterday just about anyone with a Twitter account was grossly fascinated by what has become an annual ritual in Washington: the National Zoo’s attempts to produce another baby panda. See, instead of just putting out a staid press release saying the pandas had tried to produce yet another Butterstick, the National Zoo just decided to live-tweet Mei Xiang’s artificial insemination.
While the end result is uncertain — Mei Xiang is 13 years old and hasn’t produced offspring in seven years — the process was fascinating to watch. We all probably learned far too much about how scientists at the National Zoo go about trying to conceive another panda, and even came to know that the sperm that was used today dated back to 2005 — yep, it was “vintage sperm” from the year Butterstick was born. (Sadly, now we have to sit and wait to see if this process was successful.)
But it was a brilliant use of social media. With little more than a phone and a hashtag — #pandaAI — the National Zoo very literally threw open a process that was until now only known through after-the-fact accounting by the media.
Here, in all of its glory, was how the process played out — and how some people reacted.