Panda Watch: Mei Xiang's Hormones Rise

Is giant panda Mei Xiang pregnant? Zookeepers and veterinarians have been monitoring her very carefully since she was artificially inseminated three months ago.

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Roshan Patel/Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Giant panda Mei Xiang lies down in a training chute for an ultrasound. Marty Dearie, a panda keeper, gives her some of her favorite treats, including honey water and apples, while she holds still for the ultrasound.
Roshan Patel/Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Mei Xiang receives treats while getting an ultrasound. Veterinarians perform routine ultrasounds each week to track changes in her reproductive tract. It is still too early to determine if she is pregnant or experiencing a pseudopregnancy, the zoo said. The only way to definitively determine if a giant panda is pregnant before she gives birth is to detect a developing fetus on an ultrasound. A female’s hormones and behavior will mimic a pregnancy even if she is not pregnant.
Roshan Patel/Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Dr. Don Neiffer, chief veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo performs a routine ultrasound on giant panda Mei Xiang.
Roshan Patel/Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Endocrinologists confirmed that Mei Xiang's levels of urinary progesterone began to rise May 2. This period is what scientists call the secondary rise. The first hormone rise was when Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated in March. The secondary rise conversely signals that Mei Xiang will either have a cub or experience the final stages of a pseudopregnancy in the next 40 to 50 days. Giant panda pregnancies and pseudopregnancies vary in length. They can be from 90 to 180 days long, which is why the panda team closely tracks Mei Xiang’s behavior and hormones.
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