The beloved giant panda of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Mei Xiang, received artificial insemination on the morning of March 22, it was announced.
The operation was conducted by a team of reproductive scientists, veterinarians and panda keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, after they got approval from the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As of March 12, Mei Xiang started to show behavioral changes — becoming extremely restless, wandering her yard, scent-marking, vocalizing and playing in water –, which indicated that she was entering her breeding season. Scientists and keepers have been monitoring her closely since that date.
They also determined that urinary estrogen concentrations began to increase on the same day, a sign she was about to ovulate.
A team of reproductive scientists, veterinarians & panda keepers performed an AI on giant panda Mei Xiang on March 22, taking extra precautions due to #COVID19. Panda ???? pregnancies & pseudopregnancies last between 3-6 months. #PandaStory #GiantPanda https://t.co/WiQ4n8pc5G
— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) March 23, 2020
Female giant pandas are only able to become pregnant for 24 to 72 hours each year after entering this phase, according to the Zoo’s statement, which is the reason why the team had to perform the insemination immediately. Even though Mei Xiang is 21, it is known that females can breed into their early 20s.
For the operation, the team used frozen semen from Tian Tian, who actually noticed the hormonal changes in Mei Xiang and tried to get her attention, showing he was also ready to breed. Mei Xiang, on the other hand, did not respond to his vocalizations until Saturday.
“This is another milestone in our long-standing and successful mission-critical 47-year giant panda conservation program and collaboration with Chinese colleagues to study, care for and help save the giant panda and its native habitat,” Steven Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Our team carefully planned this procedure with the safety of staff and Mei Xiang as the number one priority, taking extra precautions due to COVID-19.”
All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo closed their doors to the public as of March 14 as a public health precaution due to the coronavirus outbreak.