Image: Giant panda Mei Xiang
Michael Reynolds  /  EPA file
Twelve-year-old giant panda Mei Xiang walks in the snow at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
updated 4/2/2010 3:09:11 PM ET 2010-04-02T19:09:11

Scientists at the National Zoo in Washington have detected rising hormone levels in the zoo's female giant panda, which indicated she could be pregnant.

The rising levels mean Mei Xiang could either give birth in 40 to 50 days or come to the end of a false pregnancy. She was artificially inseminated in January.

Reproductive biologist Janine Brown says zookeepers remain "hopeful, but cautious" that Mei Xiang is pregnant. Brown says the panda's hormone levels and behavior sometimes indicate she is pregnant when she is not.

Veterinarians are conducting weekly ultrasounds to look for a fetus. So far, they have seen no indication of one, but it remains too early. Panda fetuses do not start developing until the last weeks of a gestation period.

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