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National Zoo’s Giant Panda Mei Xiang Could Be Pregnant

Is she, or isn't she? Officials at the National Zoo in Washington say giant panda Mei Xiang is showing signs of being pregnant. Scientists have detected a secondary rise in her urinary progesterone levels starting on July 20, the zoo said in a statement Monday. The increase "indicates that she will either have a cub or experience the end of a pseudopregnancy within 30 to 50 days," the statement said.

Mei Xiang, a star tourist attraction at the zoo, was artificially inseminated on April 26 and 27. The procedures used frozen sperm from Hui Hui, a panda living in China, and fresh sperm from the National Zoo's Tian Tian. Veterinarians are monitoring changes in her reproductive tract and evaluating her for signs of a fetus. Giant panda fetuses do not start developing until the final weeks of gestation. The only way to determine if a giant panda is pregnant is to detect a fetus using an ultrasound, the zoo said.

Mei Xiang is showing behaviors at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat in line with a rise in progesterone. She is nest building, spending more time in her den and sleeping more and eating less.

Panda fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Mei Xiang without visiting the zoo can tune in to the zoo’s panda cams.

Giant pandas are one of the world's most endangered species. Their natural home is in a few mountain ranges in central China. There are about 1,600 giant pandas known to be living in the wild and some 300 in captivity, mostly in China.