National Zoo announces that female giant panda may be pregnant

WASHINGTON – The National Zoo said last Friday that its female giant panda, Mei Xiang, appears to be pregnant.

Zoo officials said a birth could come as early as this weekend, and the zoo went to its 24-hour panda cam last Friday.

An ultrasound last Friday morning clearly showed what looked like a foetus, the zoo said.

The panda could always have a stillbirth, or the foetus could be resorbed, said spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson. But zoo veterinarians were extremely hopeful.

“We are totally surprised,” she said. “Reproductively speaking, this is like a miracle.”

Mei Xiang, the female giant panda at Washington’s National Zoo, eats a frozen fruit treat on February 2. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

The zoo has not has a giant panda cub in five years – since its departed male, Bei Bei, was born in 2015. (He was moved to China last year.)

Mei is 22 and near the end of her reproductive life, the zoo has said.

If she gives birth, she would be the oldest giant panda to do so, Baker-Masson said.

“In the middle of a pandemic, this is a joyful moment we can all get excited about,” chief veterinarian Don Neiffer, who conducted the ultrasound, said in a zoo statement.

“We are optimistic that very shortly she may give birth to a healthy cub,” he said. “We’re watching [Mei] closely and welcome everyone to watch with us on the panda cams.”

Mei was artificially inseminated on March 22 with frozen semen that had been collected from male giant panda Tian Tian.

Mei has had numerous “false pregnancies”, which are common in giant pandas and happen when the animal exhibits early signs of pregnancy but no cub appears.

That does not seem to be the case this time, the zoo said.

Mei Xiang has given birth to three surviving cubs: Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei.

Tai Shan was born on July 9, 2005, and he now lives in China. Bao Bao was born on August 23, 2013, and moved to China in February 2017.

By agreement, all cubs born at the zoo are sent to China when they are four-years-old.