Panda Pregnancy Hopes Begin Anew

Time to get ridiculously excited for a few months!

The National Zoo is trying to rustle us up another baby panda, and the details are, um, awfully personal.

Female panda Mei Xiang went into estrus over the weekend and was artificially inseminated both Sunday night -- and Monday afternoon, as delighted/disgusted fans followed along in real time via Twitter.

The National Zoo's feed (@NationalZoo) posted live updates (and revealing Twitpics!) of the procedure between 4 and 5:45 p.m. Monday with the hashtag #pandaAI. We would have preferred #pandaTMI, but they're the ones in charge.

Vets used frozen semen taken from male panda Tian Tian in 2005 after determining that a fresh sample was of poor quality, zoo officials said Monday.

We know, we know -- that was probably far more than you wanted to hear about. Keep in mind, though, that 2005 was a particularly good, um, vintage. That's the year that D.C.'s one and only (surviving) giant panda bebeh came into the world. (Mei Xiang and Tian Tian's predecessors had five, but none lived.)

But D.C.'s golden child headed off to college... uh, China, in 2010. We've all been desperate for another panda baby, but the memo was apparently misdirected to the red pandas, who have been breeding like, well, rabbits.

Meanwhile, zoo staff have determined that "no competent natural breeding had occurred" between the giant pandas this year. For shame, pandas. For shame.

Zoo staff will monitor Mei Xiang's hormone levels and conduct ultrasounds to get everyone's hopes up in the coming months.

This could be the last year the zoo tries to breed with this particular pair.

In Janury 2011, China and the U.S. signed a new agreement to extend the pandas' stay through Dec. 5, 2015. But that agreement included a stipulation that if either was "found unsuitable for breeding," they could be swapped for new pandas from China.

Guess we're just going to have to wait and see how this drama plays out over Twitter. Vets can't always tell when a female panda is With Butterstick -- Tai Shan, for instance, basically popped up out of nowhere.

An average panda pregnancy lasts for a wide range of 90 to 160 days. The average is 135 days, which puts us at a very rough date of Sept. 10-12. For reference, Tai Shan was born in a year when Mei Xiang went into estrus earlier, and he made his debut July 9.

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