Yet again, Mei Xiang gave panda fans and National Zoo staff a false alarm on a potential pregnancy. Photo courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo.
Back in May, the National Zoo told us there was a possibility that Mei Xiang, the female giant panda, might be pregnant. It turns out that that was a false alarm. This is Mei's sixth false pregnancy, and the fifth in a row for her since she gave birth to Tai Shan. Each year, zoo staff go on giant panda pregnancy watch, monitoring Mei Xiang's hormone levels and behavior. They've tried both an exercise routine to help Mei and Tian Tian to conceive naturally and artificial insemination with Tian's sperm. The Zoo's press release says, "During a pseudopregnancy, hormonal changes and behaviors are identical to those of a true pregnancy, making it very difficult to determine if a giant panda is actually pregnant or not."
No luck this time. Instead, we'll just have to comfort ourselves with the fact that the Zoo has been successful in welcoming two litters of the less popular but still cute red pandas.
Shama, one of the Zoo's female red pandas, gave birth to two cubs on June 17 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Unlike the giant panda watch, which is heavily managed by the Zoo's staff with hormone-level testing and ultrasounds, Zoo staff first learned of Sharma's new cubs when she didn't respond to a call one morning. After they heard squeaking of new cubs, they knew she had given birth to cubs.
Another female red panda, Lao Mei, had given birth to her own two cubs on June 5. Zoo workers have been trying not to interfere with the cubs in this early period, but they did determine that both of Lao's cubs are female. The Zoo reports that, "All four newborns are steadily gaining weight and appear healthy."
The red panda exhibit on the Zoo's Asia Trail is currently closed for the safety of the mothers and their cubs, but the Zoo plans to reopen the exhibit this fall, when the public will be able to view the new red panda cubs. They also note that, "100 surviving cubs have been born at both the Front Royal and Washington facilities since 1962."