Panda Watch 2010

It's that time of the year again

We have confirmed panda sex: The National Zoo's got the tape to prove it.

Coul there be another baby panda in our future? It could be just the thing to lift us out of our Tai Shan-is-leaving-soon funk too.

Turns out Mei Xiang went into heat Saturday -- the second January in a row that that's happened -- and started mating with Tian Tian. (Mei Xiang and Tian Tian being Tai Shan's parents, of course. We only hope Tai Shan was not peeking.)

But, because competent mating did not occur, zoo scientists and veterinarians decide to give Mei Xiang some help. First, they separated the love pandas. Then they conked them both out, got the necessary goods from Tian Tian and artifically inseminated Mei Xiang later that evening and again Sunday morning, according to zoo officials. 

Now that the zoo has gone above and beyond to give Tai Shan a sibling, they're keeping Mei Xiang and Tian Tian apart until she either delivers a cub or scientists determine that Mei Xiang's not pregnant. It seems having Tian Tian around could increase Mei Xiang's stress hormone levels, which would be bad for a developing cub.

If Mei Xiang is pregnant, it'll take 90 to 185 days before the next Tai Shan is born.  

So the clock is running -- and in more ways than one. In addition to Tai Shan's scheduled departure sometime in early February, this may be the last time Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are in Washington. They're scheduled to return to China later this year.  

C'mon little panda baby...

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