The Smithsonian's National Zoo's female panda, Mei Xiang, was recently artificial inseminated. See how it went! Our giant panda mating season began on January 29, with Mei Xiang and Tian Tian attempting to mate. In accordance with the new Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, reproductive experts from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong and experts from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute will collaborate on the breeding plan for Mei and Tian for 2011 and 2012. Tang Chunxiang, the Chinese Center's chief veterinarian, flew here to work with the Zoo's panda team. On January 29, Tang, alongside Zoo scientists and veterinarians, performed the first of two nonsurgical artificial inseminations on Mei Xiang after it was determined that competent natural breeding between the pair had not occurred. Due in part to the bears' rigorous attempts at natural mating, efforts to retrieve semen from Tian Tian were not successful. The team decided to thaw high-quality semen of Tian Tian collected and frozen in 2005. Mei Xiang was then anesthetized for the procedure. A second artificial insemination was performed on January 30. "Both procedures went extremely well and the staff at the Zoo were happy to collaborate with Dr. Tang," said Pierre Comizzoli, a research physiologist at the Zoo. "Comparing our process and Dr. Tang's in China, we found our insemination techniques were very similar. Both countries really do have common practices in giant panda reproduction. We are all hopeful for a cub this spring." Tang is an expert in breeding pandas in China. He worked with Mei and Tian to encourage natural breeding over several days; however, the pair never successfully mated. Therefore, Zoo staff separated the bears before performing the artificial insemination. They will remain separated for the next few months, until Mei either delivers a cub or Zoo scientists determine that she is not pregnant. Keeping the pandas separated will reduce the risk of increased stress-hormone levels in Mei Xiang, which could jeopardize a developing embryo. Panda gestation typically lasts from 90 to 185 days. Veterinarians and scientists will monitor Mei's hormone levels and perform ultrasounds to determine if she is pregnant. At present there is no way of knowing for sure if she conceived; hormone levels are the same regardless of whether she is pregnant or pseudo pregnant. Mei and Tian have produced one cub, Tai Shan, who was born July 9, 2005, as a result of artificial insemination. Tai Shan now resides at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, China.
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