News & Politics

Panda Pregnancy Watch at the National Zoo

Mei Xiang might be pregnant. But odds are she’s just messing with us. Again.

Mei Xiang. Photo courtesty of the National Zoo.

Not to get your hopes up prematurely, but the National Zoo just issued a statement saying that its female giant panda Mei Xiang—mother of much-loved Tai Shan, who’s now living in China—is showing signs that she might be pregnant. The 12-year-old panda was artificially inseminated on January 29 and 30, and since then zoo scientists have been closely monitoring her pregnancy-hormone levels. The latest spike is Mei Xiang’s second progesterone rise, meaning another tiny Butterstick could arrive in 40 to 50 days—or, you know, not.

The tricky thing with giant pandas is that they can show signs of being pregnant even when they’re not. It’s called pseudo-pregnancy, and pandas can look and act pregnant without ever actually having conceived. That’s why every year around this time, Washingtonians wait with bated breath to see if another baby panda is in the works. Unfortunately in recent years, the odds have been against us.

Zoo scientists are conducting weekly hormone analyses on Mei Xiang’s urine samples, according to the statement. They’re also doing ultrasounds to look for a fetus. So far, none has been detected, though it might still be too early: Panda fetuses don’t develop until the final weeks of gestation.

>> Want to learn more about baby animals and breeding programs at the zoo? Read all about it here. And for a healthy dose of Tai Shan nostalgia, head to our retrospective picture gallery.

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