The giant panda Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) gave birth to a baby at the Smithsonian National Zoo today, August 21. Animal care staff attended the birth at 6:35 p.m. Mei Xiang immediately hugged the little one and started rocking and caring for him. The panda team heard the lion cub vocalize and first glimpsed him briefly just after birth. They watch Mei Xiang and her cub through the zoo cameras.
A newborn exam will be done when the caretakers can pick up the baby, which could take a few days. The sex of the child will not be determined until a later date.
"Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and with the birth of this precious little one, we are delighted to offer the world a much-needed moment of pure joy," said Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. As Mei Xiang is of advanced maternal age, we knew the chances of her having a baby were slim. However, we wanted to give her an extra opportunity to contribute to the survival of her species.
I am incredibly proud of our science and animal care teams, whose expertise in giant panda behavior has been essential to this conservation success. "
Zoo vets confirmed the presence of a fetus during an ultrasound on August 14 and August 17.
During the procedures, they saw clear images of a developing skeletal structure and strong blood flow in Mei Xiang's uterus. This was an important opportunity because Mei Xiang usually chooses not to participate in ultrasounds in the last weeks of her pregnancies and pseudo-pregnancies.
Female giant pandas are only in estrus, or able to become pregnant, for 24 to 72 hours each year.
To determine the optimal time for artificial insemination, the zoo's team of experts, consisting of panda keepers and a behavior specialist, closely observed Mei Xiang's behavior, which is the best indicator, besides hormonal analysis, of her ovulation.
These behaviors include an increase in positive vocalizations like bleating and chirping and walking backwards with the tail in the air. Historically, this behavior has been accompanied by a peak increase in estrogen and progesterone.
Reproductive scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and veterinarians at the zoo performed artificial insemination on Mei Xiang on March 22 with frozen sperm taken from Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN). Mei Xiang turned 22 on July 22.
She is the oldest giant panda in the United States and the second oldest documented panda in the world to have given birth. It is also the first time that a zoo in the United States has experienced a successful pregnancy and birth through artificial insemination using only frozen sperm.
According to data provided by scientists in China and other zoos where pandas live, females can reproduce until their early 20s. Tian Tian will turn 23 on August 27.
At the end of July, Mei Xiang showed behaviors compatible with pregnancy or pseudo-pregnancy. SCBI scientists confirmed that a secondary increase in Mei Xiang's urinary progesterone levels began on June 10. In the days leading up to parturition, Mei Xiang slept more, ate less, made her nests and licked her body.
The home of the David M. Rubenstein family pandas is currently closed to ensure the calm of Mei Xiang and her baby. The panda team began monitoring the behavior of pandas cams around the clock on August 14. As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has updated its hours and entry requirements.
Mei Xiang gave birth to three little survivors: Tai Shan (tie-SHON), Bao Bao (BOW BOW) and Bei Bei (BAY BAY). Tai Shan was born on July 9, 2005 and moved to China in February 2010. Bao Bao was born on August 23, 2013 and moved to China in February 2017. Bei Bei was born on August 22, 2015 and moved to China in November 2019 As part of the Zoo's cooperation agreement with the Chinese Association for the Conservation of Wildlife, all babies born at the Zoo go to China at the age of 4.
The Zoo's current cooperation agreement expires in December 2020.
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