News & Politics

The National Zoo Has Artificially Inseminated Giant Panda Mei Xiang

Could this be the start of the Covid-19 baby boom?

Giant Panda Mei Xiang | Photo courtesy of the National Zoo
Coronavirus 2020

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FINALLY some good news: On March 22, the National Zoo artificially inseminated giant panda Mei Xiang after she showed behavioral changes that indicated she was ovulating.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Mei Xiang beat us all to the punch on starting a coronavirus baby boom. It’s going to take several months before the panda team knows if she’s pregnant. Pandas can often experience “pseudopregnancies” where their hormones and behavior falsely indicate they’re pregnant, so the only way to be sure a little cub is on the way is to see a developing fetus in the womb.

So what’s all the fuss if Mei Xiang is only maybe pregnant? Well, pandas have a ridiculously short breeding season. Like, 24 to 72 hours a year short. So if Washingtonians want to see another bebé like Bei Bei, it’s crucial for the Zoo to act quickly when Mei Xiang’s hormones and behavior show the time might be right.

During the last week, Mei Xiang has been increasingly restless, vocal, and playful: all signs of an approaching fertile window. According to the zoo, fellow panda Tian Tian has been digging the vibe Mei Xiang has been putting out, frequently calling out to her and constantly keeping her in his sight. Mei Xiang initially wasn’t about it, as she “did not respond positively to any of Tian Tian’s vocalizations,” but she finally appeared to give in on Sunday and indicated Tian Tian had a shot.

However, the panda team had a different plan. In the interest of minimizing staff contact, they used some of Tian Tian’s frozen semen to inseminate Mei Xiang. Yet another potential hookup thwarted by coronavirus.

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.