The Washington Post

Panda preggers?

Female panda Mei Xiang snacks on bamboo in 2001. (By Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

That could mean she’s “with cub” or it could mean, as it so often has for pandas in captivity, that she has a false pregnancy.

Hormone levels aren’t enough to know if Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) is actually pregnant. Zoo veterinarians have been conducting ultrasounds twice weekly, but they have not detected a fetus.

Panda fetuses don’t start developing until the final weeks of the 160-day gestation period.

That’s only one reason pandas find it so hard to have offspring. When scientists step in to help things along, they only have about 48 hours once a year, when the female is in heat, to try to achieve pregnancy.

A Chinese panda breeding expert helped zoo scientists artificially inseminate Mei Xiang in January. She and male panda Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) had attempted to mate but weren’t successful.

Their only cub, Tai Shan (tie-SHON), was born July 9, 2005.

Patricia Sullivan covers government, politics and other regional issues in Arlington County and Alexandria. She worked in Illinois, Florida, Montana and California before joining the Post in November 2001.

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