Gi­ant panda may be preg­nant

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The gi­ant panda Mei Xiang at the Na­tional Zoo may be preg­nant again with another cub.

Sci­en­tists at the Smith­so­nian Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy In­sti­tute have con­firmed a sec­ondary rise in Mei Xiang’s uri­nary pro­ges­terone lev­els. The slow rise started July 20 and in­di­cates that she will ei­ther have a cub or ex­pe­ri­ence the end of a pseu­do­preg­nancy within 30 to 50 days, the zoo an­nounced on Mon­day.

Sci­en­tists have been care­fully track­ing Mei Xiang’s hor­mone lev­els since she was ar­ti­fi­cially in­sem­i­nated April 26 and 27, us­ing frozen sperm col­lected from Hui Hui, a gi­ant panda liv­ing in China, and fresh sperm col­lected from Tian Tian at the Na­tional Zoo.

“Our panda team has been mon­i­tor­ing Mei Xiang very closely since the pro­ce­dures. Vets will con­tinue reg­u­lar ul­tra­sounds as Mei Xiang chooses to par­tic­i­pate in them,” the zoo said in the an­nounce­ment.

The team is mon­i­tor­ing changes in Mei Xiang’s re­pro­duc­tive tract and eval­u­at­ing for ev­i­dence of a fe­tus. The only way to defini­tively de­ter­mine if a gi­ant panda is preg­nant is to de­tect a fe­tus on an ul­tra­sound. Sci­en­tists will also con­tinue to mon­i­tor her hor­mone lev­els through daily analy­ses, ac­cord­ing to the zoo.

A fe­male panda’s be­hav­ior and hor­mones mimic a preg­nancy even if she is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pseu­do­preg­nancy. Gi­ant panda fe­tuses do not start de­vel­op­ing un­til the fi­nal weeks of ges­ta­tion, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine if there is a preg­nancy. It may still be too early to de­tect a fe­tus on an ul­tra­sound.

Mei Xiang has be­gun ex­hibit­ing be­hav­iors con­sis­tent with a rise in uri­nary pro­ges­terone. She is nest build­ing, choos­ing to spend more time in her den, sleep­ing more and eat­ing less, ac­cord­ing to the zoo.

The area of the David M. Ruben­stein Fam­ily Gi­ant Panda Habi­tat clos­est to her den will soon close to pro­vide her with quiet; Mei Xiang shows ex­tra sen­si­tiv­ity to noise dur­ing the fi­nal weeks of a pseu­do­preg­nancy or preg­nancy.

But the zoo said visi­tors to the gi­ant panda habi­tat can see Tian Tian and Bao Bao out­side as usual, as well as Mei Xiang when she chooses to go into her out­door ex­hibit.

Mei Xiang, born on July 22, 1998, has given birth to two sur­viv­ing cubs, Tai Shan and Bao Bao. Tai Shan was born July 9, 2005, and he now lives in China. Bao Bao was born Aug 23, 2013. She will live at the Zoo un­til she turns 4; she will then go to live in China and even­tu­ally en­ter the gi­ant panda breed­ing pro­gram. Both Tai Shan and Bao Bao were born as the re­sult of ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tions.

Be­sides Washington, three zoos in the US keep gi­ant pan­das on loan from China: San Diego, At­lanta and Mem­phis.

Chi­nese and Amer­i­can sci­en­tists on gi­ant panda con­duct reg­u­lar ex­changes. Last month, Smith­so­nian Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy In­sti­tute chief vet­eri­nar­ian Cop­per AitkenPalmer and vet­eri­nar­i­ans from the San Diego Zoo and Hong Kong Zoo and zoos all over the Chi­nese main­land had a vet­eri­nary work­shop at the Du­jiangyan Panda Base to di­ag­nose and el­e­vate the level of medicine pro­vided to gi­ant pan­das within China.

There were 394 cap­tive pan­das in China at the end of Jan­uary this year, and another

SMITH­SO­NIAN NA­TIONAL ZOO PHOTO COUR­TESY OF

Gi­ant panda Mei Xiang, shown on April 19 at the Na­tional Zoo in Washington, could be due to give birth again. Sci­en­tists at the Smith­so­nian Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­ogy In­sti­tute in Washington have con­firmed a sec­ondary rise in her pro­ges­terone lev­els. Mei Ziang, who was born on July 22, 1998, has given birth to two sur­viv­ing cubs, Tai Shan, born in 2005, and Bao Bao, who ar­rived in 2013,

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