The National Zoo’s panda mother might be pregnant for the second time in two years, zoo officials said Thursday, citing a spike in Mei Xiang’s hormone levels.
But there’s no reliable pregnancy test for pandas, and this could be a false alarm, the zoo warned.
Mei Xiang gave birth to her first cub in July 2005, helping to boost zoo attendance and create countless new panda fans. She showed a spike in hormone levels again Wednesday, two months after she was artificially inseminated with semen taken from Gao Gao, a giant panda at the San Diego Zoo.
Zoo spokesman John Gibbons said Mei Xiang’s hormone levels are tested daily. A rise in hormones levels was expected at some point after the insemination, he said, either meaning she is pregnant or experiencing a false pregnancy.
“The only difference between a pseudo pregnancy and an actual pregnancy is there’s no cub,” Gibbons said. “Her body is doing everything as if she’s pregnant.”
After about 30 to 50 days, or sometime in July, the panda’s hormone levels will drop and a cub could be born, or the pregnancy will be proven false.
Panda cub Tai Shan, who turns 2 on July 9, has been fully weaned from his mother and lives in a separate enclosure at the zoo’s Asia Trail exhibit.
Pandas are notoriously poor breeders, and females have only three days a year in which they can conceive. The most recent panda cub born in the U.S. was Mei Lan in Atlanta last September.
Mei Xiang is the zoo’s only female panda, and Tai Shan was the first cub born at the National Zoo to survive more than a brief time.
Ling-Ling, the female panda brought to the National Zoo in 1972 along with her mate, Hsing-Hsing, gave birth five times, but none of the cubs lived. Ling-Ling died in 1992 and Hsing-Hsing in 1999. The two were a gift from the Chinese government following President Nixon’s visit to China.