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Despite Romance, No New Panda Cub

Mei Xiang spent a leisurely day yawning and napping early this month.
Mei Xiang spent a leisurely day yawning and napping early this month. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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Over the months, the zoo's panda Web site carefully documented the rise and fall of Mei Xiang's hormone levels, as well as nesting, licking and cradling behaviors that were potential clues to a pregnancy. "Mei continues to show maternal behaviors," the zoo said on its panda Web site Aug. 3.

Legions of the "pregnancy watch" fans were able to see the animal on the zoo's Pandacams.

The suspense was trying. Zoo officials had expected developments by last month. "It is the beginning of August and all of us thought we would have an answer to the big question by now!" the zoo reported on the Web site Aug. 1. "Here we are, still hoping for a cub."

On Aug. 5, the Web site noted the latest hormone level, adding: "Considering her behaviors, there is still hope that Mei Xiang's reproductive cycle may end with a cub."

After her hormones returned to near-normal levels, she continued to exhibit pregnancy behaviors, tantalizing the zoo's experts.

Mei Xiang, 8, has had several previous pseudo-pregnancies, including one last year, when she was artificially inseminated with sperm from Gao Gao, a panda in the San Diego Zoo. Gao Gao was sick this year.

Mei Xiang was not inseminated in 2006 because of the birth of her only cub, Tai Shan, on July 9, 2005. Tai Shan is a product of artificial insemination.

Montfort said everything looked good for natural mating this year between Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who both came to the zoo from China in 2000.

They were very "vocal" toward each other. "They were both extremely interested and obviously attracted to one another at that point," he said. "But the actual alignment . . . just didn't line up. And it's not like we can physically help with that.

"Maybe it's one of those things when they finally figure out how to do it themselves, then the light will go on and they'll be experienced from that point forward," Montfort said.

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