Pandas play in snow
Ann Batdorf  /  Smithsonian National Zoo via AP
Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian wrestle playfully in the snow at the National Zoo last month.
updated 3/10/2005 6:20:15 PM ET 2005-03-10T23:20:15

Love is in the air at the National Zoo’s panda house.

The zoo’s female panda, Mei Xiang, has begun her annual mating season and had two mating encounters Thursday with the male panda, Tian Tian, zoo spokeswoman Peper Long said.

“I don’t think there’s been a strong successful mating yet, but we still have time to give them,” Long said.

The pandas will get several more opportunities over the next couple of days before zoo officials try artificial insemination.

Last year, Tian Tian did not show enough sustained interest in mating with Mei Xiang for a successful breeding. An attempt at artificial insemination was also unsuccessful.

This year, the zoo is hoping to give the pandas a better chance for success by closing their exhibit to the public during the mating period.

Experts in China and at other U.S. zoos have also advised that the pandas be brought inside and separated to create expectation between the two. They will be put together for short periods, then separated, with that process repeated at different times.

Those who want to see the panda’s progress for themselves can check out the panda Webcams on the National Zoo’s Web site. Those cameras are operated by behavior monitors who are looking for signs that Mei Xiang is pregnant.

Mei Xiang, 6, and Tian Tian, 7, are the National Zoo’s second pair of giant pandas. Both went on exhibit in Dec. 2000 and are on a 10-year loan from China. Mei Xiang has not been pregnant, though she experienced a pseudopregnancy in 2003. The zoo said any baby would belong to China, and would likely be sent there.

The zoo’s previous panda pair — Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing — bred successfully four times and produced five cubs, but none lived longer than a few days.

The only successful panda breeding in the United States has happened a the San Diego Zoo, where two cubs have been reared.

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