Those who follow tweets from the National Zoo in Washington DC may have noticed some … unusual updates recently – specifically, a tweet-by-tweet account of a panda being inseminated.
Thankfully, we’re talking artificial insemination here. After a failed first attempt on April 22, Monday saw zoologists conduct a second procedure to try and artificially inseminate 13-year-old giant panda Mei Xiang.
Using the hashtag “#pandaAI,” the zoo’s team of experts ensured all the vivid details were shared with the Twittersphere as they carried out their operation.
It was Dave Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival, who was behind the tweets. He told followers it required eight people to carry Mei Xiang (who weighs a considerable 230 pounds) to the operation room, and described how 15 to 20 scientists, animal keepers and veterinarians prepared Mei with general anesthesia and injected her with up to 800 million sperm. The sperm were from a stockpile of 2005 samples donated by male giant panda Tian Tian.
Giant pandas find it notoriously difficult to conceive – indeed, the average panda has a tiny two-to-three-day window for mating each year. This is why Mei Xiang has already been artificially inseminated eight times – only one of those procedures was a success, when she gave birth to baby Tai Shan in 2005. She’s currently on loans to the U.S. from China until 2015, so U.S. scientists will have limited chances to artificially impregnate Mei Xiang.
Scientists will now monitor Mei’s hormones, and ultrasounds will be carried out over the next few months. As panda foetuses cannot be detected until one week before their due date, it could be a while before we hear anything.
Here’s Mei Xiang chilling out with some honey-drizzled bamboo earlier this year: