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Giant panda artificially inseminated at U.S. National Zoo

Veterinarians at the National Zoo artificially inseminated the zoo's female giant panda Mei Xiang on Saturday after natural breeding failed to occur, zoo keepers said.

Mei Xiang was put under general anesthesia and inseminated with a combination of fresh semen and frozen semen collected from the zoo's male giant panda Tian Tian. The scientists said they planned a second insemination later on Saturday.

Veterinarians detected a rise in hormone levels on Tuesday, indicating Mei Xiang was ready to breed but said "no competent breeding" between the panda pair had occurred.

"We are hopeful that our breeding efforts will be successful this year, and we're encouraged by all the behaviors and hormonal data we've seen so far," said Dave Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Scientists will continue to monitor Mei Xiang's hormone levels in the coming months and conduct ultrasounds to determine whether she is pregnant. A pregnancy lasts between 95 and 160 days, they said.

Mei Xiang has given birth to two cubs. One died a week after its birth last year. The other was born in 2005 and is now at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong.

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; editing by Jackie Frank)

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