A special delivery could be on the way to the National Zoo.
Mei Xiang, D.C.'s beloved giant panda mom of three, was artificially inseminated twice Thursday, the National Zoo announced Friday. If we're lucky, a bundle of panda joy could be on the way.
Breeding for pandas is notoriously tricky. Females are only in estrus, or able to conceive, for 24 to 72 hours each year. Mei Xiang reached peak estrogen levels Wednesday, the zoo said. The bad news: Tian Tian, the zoo's 19-year-old male, was ready to breed at a different time.
That's what pushed scientists to artificially inseminate Mei Xiang twice with semen from Tian Tian.
Vets will now monitor Mei Xiang's hormones and behavior for a pregnancy, which can last anywhere from three to six months. But even if she demonstrates the behaviors and hormonal changes, she could be just having a pseudopregnancy (translation: no adorable panda cub).
Mei Xiang will keep us in suspense for a while. An ultrasound is the only surefire way to tell if she's expecting, and because panda fetuses are so tiny, even those sometimes can't tell for sure.
Mei Xiang is already mom to panda siblings Tai Shan and Bao Bao -- who have both moved to China -- and almost-2-year-old Bei Bei, who still lives at the zoo.
Zoo staff have called Mei Xiang a devoted mom, but her road to motherhood hasn't always been easy. After Tai Shan was born in 2005, Mei Xiang failed to get pregnant for years. She gave birth in 2012 to a cub who didn't survive. Bao Bao and a stillborn twin were born in 2013, and Bei Bei followed in 2015, along with a twin who didn't live long.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are both on loan from China, as are any cubs they have. Pandas born in the United States return to China by their fourth birthday, as Bao Bao did this past spring.
Our fingers are crossed for your (potential) new addition, Mei Xiang!