National Zoo awaits birth of pandemic panda cub

WASHINGTON (AP) — Zookeepers at Washington’s National Zoo are on furry black-and-white baby watch after concluding that venerable giant panda matriarch Mei Xiang is pregnant and could give birth this week. It’s a welcome bit of good news amid a pandemic that kept the zoo shuttered for months.

“We need this! We totally need this joy,” said zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson. “We are all in desperate need of these feel-goods.”

Although so-called “phantom pregnancies” are common with pandas and other large bears, Baker-Masson said an ultrasound scan revealed a “really strong-looking, fantastic fetus” that could be delivered this week.

“The image was great. She is absolutely pregnant. But things could still happen, just like in a human pregnancy,” Baker-Masson said.

The zoo posted a video from the ultrasound on Instagram. “Keep your paws crossed!” the zoo posted, reporting that the fetus was “kicking and swimming in the amniotic fluid”.

The announcement of the pregnancy has already touched off a fresh round of panda-mania for one of the zoo’s feature attractions. Viewership on the zoo’s panda-cam has increased 800 per cent.

The zoo reopened on a limited basis July 24, with restrictions in place to keep the crowds down. However, all indoor exhibits, including the extremely popular panda house, have remained closed. Visitors can still view the outdoor panda enclosure, but Mei has mostly been staying indoors, creating a nest out of branches. She can still be viewed on the panda cam.

The Smithsonian National Zoo’s Giant Panda Mei Ziang, sleeps in the indoor habitat at the zoo in Washington. PHOTO: AP