Panda's Behavioral Changes Launch Pregnancy Watch at National Zoo

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 3, 2009

Volunteers yesterday began around-the-clock monitoring of the National Zoo's giant female panda after scientists noticed hormonal and behavioral changes that might indicate pregnancy.

Officials cautioned that Mei Xiang might be experiencing a false pregnancy, as she has in years past.

But several behaviors are raising hopes. Mei Xiang is "denning," meaning that she is bringing bamboo to a place that's dark and quiet. Also, she is eating less and cradling objects, including food.

"Any [other] time I've seen Mei with a pear, she's eating it," said Pamela Baker-Masson, a zoo spokeswoman.

Starting last night, volunteers began monitoring Mei Xiang day and night on the zoo's pandacam. If she is pregnant, she will probably have the baby within three weeks.

Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated Jan. 17 after scientists determined that she was in heat.

Since then, scientists have conducted regular hormonal analyses, looking for signs that birth could be near.

Attempts to impregnate her failed in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. In 2005, Mei Xiang and the zoo's male giant panda, Tian Tian, produced a cub, Tai Shan, through artificial insemination.

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