Thanks to artificial insemination, this giant panda is one step closer to becoming a mom.
Mei Xiang, a panda at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C., had the procedure performed last month by a team of veterinarians, scientists and zookeepers.
The National Zoo announced Thursday that the insemination was performed, and the team will continue to monitor the 20-year-old panda’s health for the next several months to determine whether she is pregnant.
“Hopefully, we will have a healthy cub and celebrate another conservation success for the zoo and this vulnerable species,” National Zoo director Steve Monfort said in a statement.
Every year, there are only 24 to 72 hours during which a female panda can conceive.
When zookeepers began noticing Mei Xiang and her mate Tian Tian were signaling they were ready to mate, the team in charge of the artificial insemination acted quickly.
“Mei Xiang has become increasingly restless, wandering her yard, scent-marking and vocalizing — all behaviors that increase in intensity before she reaches peak estrus,” Monfort said. “Tian Tian immediately noticed the hormonal changes in Mei Xiang and began displaying behaviors toward her indicating that he was ready to breed as well.”
Because it is impossible to determine if a female panda is pregnant from hormone analysis or behavior, researchers will perform ultrasounds regularly to monitor if a fetus is developing.
“Our team worked seamlessly to give Mei Xiang and Tian Tian the best chance to contribute to their species’ survival,” Monfort said.
Giant pandas were once listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but thanks to successful breeding efforts for the species, they were taken off the list in 2016 and are now listed as “vulnerable.”