Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) the Smithsonian National Zoo’s panda has being artificially inseminated twice in the hopes that she will conceive a cub.
Following a spike in Mei Xiang’s oestrogen levels on Sunday morning vets prepared for the procedure. By 6pm that night she was on the operating table with another procedure taking place at 7.30 the next morning.
This year keepers are using semen from a Chinese male for the first time. Hui Hui (h-WEI h-WEI) a panda living at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Wolong donated the semen. He was selected as the best genetic match for Mei Xiang.
While resident male panda Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN) may not be as genetically valuable his semen was also used during the procedure. Keepers used a mix of Hui Hui and Tian Tian’s genetic material. If a cub is born a DNA test will be used to determine which male is the sire.
A cub produced by Mei Xiang and Hui Hui would be most valuable to the worldwide panda population as both Tian Tian and his father have been successful breeders. He has already sired cubs Tai Shan (tie-SHON) and Bao Bao (BOW-BOW) with Mei Xiang .
It will be three to six months before the cub is born. Keepers will be able to tell she is nearing the end of the pregnancy through hormone analysis. This may be a result of a pseudo pregnancy though which means she acts pregnant but is not. Vets will use ultrasound to determine if she is definitely pregnant.
Bringing the semen of Hui Hui to China was no simple effort. First Jon Ballou, a research scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) determined the best genetic match for Mei Xiang. He manages all the pandas in human care. Then they needed to seek permission for the import from the China Wildlife and Conservation Association along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which monitor all research programs on the giant panda being undertaken in the United States. Then the sperm could be frozen and flown to Washington DC. The journey was chronicled using #PandaStory on Instagram.
The zoo also instagramed the insemination procedures. The non-surgical procedures took place under general anaesthesia with the first being live-streamed to Twitter.
Top Ann Batdorf/Smithsonian National Zoo
Bottom Mehgan Murphy/Smithsonian National Zoo