Pregnancy hopes rise again: Panda artificially inseminated

Two pandas at the National Zoo attempted to mate before zoo officials determined they had not been successful and artificially inseminated the female, Mei Xiang.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2010

Experts at the National Zoo artificially inseminated the zoo's female giant panda Saturday and Sunday after she went into heat over the weekend, the zoo said.

Mei Xiang underwent the nonsurgical insemination after she and the zoo's male giant panda, Tian Tian, tried to mate but failed, the zoo said.

Panda reproduction in captivity is complex and difficult, and zoo scientists have only about 48 hours once a year, when the female is in heat, to try to achieve a pregnancy.

A giant panda cub this year would be a special sensation because the zoo is facing the potential loss of all three of its giant pandas by next year.

Mei Xiang went into heat about noon Saturday, and she and Tian Tian attempted to mate for several hours, the zoo said. After experts saw that the attempts had failed, the animals were anesthetized and the insemination procedures began.

Now begins Washington's annual panda pregnancy watch, which can last three to six months, the panda gestation period. The two adult pandas will be separated, and scientists will closely monitor the female.

The zoo also announced Sunday that its beloved 4-year-old giant panda, Tai Shan, will depart for China early next month. A public farewell party is scheduled for Jan. 30 at the zoo.

Tai Shan, born at the zoo in 2005 via artificial insemination, is the only offspring of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Subsequent breeding attempts have failed.

Giant pandas are native to China, which owns all giant pandas in U.S. zoos. The adult pandas are at the National Zoo on a 10-year loan from China that expires this year. Tai Shan, by agreement with the Chinese, was to have been sent there two years ago, but China granted an extension.

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