Panda Baby Watch — Who’s the Daddy?
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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — It’s a matter of practicality, not promiscuity.
If the latest efforts to get the National Zoo’s giant panda Mei Xiang to produce a cub are successful, it won’t be immediately clear who the father is.
Ever since scientists detected a rise in the bear’s urinary estrogens on March 26, the National Zoo has been abuzz with talk of another baby for the 14-year-old.
Mei Xiang gave birth to her first cub, Tai Shan, in 2005. Sadly, her second offspring only survived one week after it was born last September. Both babies were fathered by the National Zoo’s male giant panda, Tian Tian.
On March 30, while under general anesthesia, Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated twice as part of the zoo’s attempts to produce another panda cub. Once with with a combination of fresh and frozen semen from Tian Tian, and once with frozen semen from both Tian Tian and the San Diego Zoo’s male giant panda, Gao Gao. Gao Gao has fathered five cubs born at the San Diego Zoo.
Scientists will monitor Mei Xiang’s hormone levels in the coming months and conduct ultrasounds to determine if she is expecting a black-and-white bundle of joy.
A panda’s gestation period is between 95 and 160 days long, but they experience delayed implantation, which means the embryo does not implant in the uterine wall until a few weeks before birth. As a result, the fetus does not start to develop until the final weeks of pregnancy. It will be impossible to determine from behaviors and hormone analyses if a Mei Xiang is actually pregnant or experiencing a false pregnancy, which she has done several times.
The Zoo will run a paternity analysis if a cub is born.