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July 2008 Updates

July 31

Mei Xiang slept last night and this morning while there was a flurry of activity around her. Zoo staff were busy responding to calls and questions from everyone, including the media, who were all certain that last night’s darkened cams were a result of a panda birth. Sadly, it was all created by a technical problem on the site. We are very sorry for the false alarm, and the resulting excitement and disappointment. We all wish so much that it had been the real thing!

Mei continues to display her repertoire of pregnancy behaviors. She also continues to be responsive to the staff, frequently choosing to spend time outside the den. We did not try an ultrasound today. Mei did come out to the patio for treats, but declined to get on the scale. She nibbled very delicately around an apple, leaving a perfectly rounded piece that she could not possibly finish, as it was too tiresome to do so!

As long as her hormone (progestin) level does not reach baseline, there is still hope that a cub is slowly developing. We should know something in the next few days. Hmm, it seems like I have said that before. If her progestin level reaches baseline and remains there for two to three days without a birth, we will know that Ms. Mei experienced another pseudopregnancy.

July 30

Mei Xiang had another quiet night. She woke up at 3:27 this morning and worked on nest building for 15 minutes, including ten minutes shredding an enrichment log. She did not move again until 6:43 a.m., just before the keepers arrived. Mei came out for an ultrasound and when the procedure was completed she wanted to hang out in the training area, and finish ALL of the food, before returning to her indoor enclosures.

Up until noon today, we saw brief periods of pregnancy behaviors. The most significant observations were 12 minutes of nest building involving shredding the log at 8:48 a.m. and two episodes of paw licking, totaling 11 minutes, later in the morning. Mei urinated at 8:45 a.m. and again at 12:04 p.m. The second time, Mei was lying on her back and did not shift, so this sample is not retrievable. She has been asleep since then.

July 29

Mei Xiang continues to show all the pregnancy behaviors previously discussed, although she shifted her activity time from midnight to 3 a.m. this morning. Behavior watchers observed two short periods of ano-genital licking between 3 and 4 a.m.

This morning Mei participated in an ultrasound procedure at 8:30 a.m. She continues to eat well and be responsive to her keepers.

Many of you may be wondering why ultrasound exams are not telling us whether Mei is pregnant. Due to the giant panda's unique physiology, it is difficult if not impossible to visualize the entire reproductive tract. On the left side, we can tell that the reproductive tract has expanded, which is consistent with either pseudopregnancy or a real pregnancy. We are unable to visualize the entire right side. So far, we have not found any evidence to definitively diagnose a pregnancy. We know you'll stay tuned!

July 28

Mei Xiang spent another night showing some pregnancy behaviors around midnight. At 11:42 p.m. she dragged bamboo into the den and shredded it. This activity lasted 25 minutes and then resumed for a few more minutes at 12:20 a.m. Mei also had a long period of paw licking, lasting 13 minutes, at 12:55 a.m. Otherwise, only a few seconds of paw licking were observed. The drain grate remained in place last night.

After less than a minute of honking at 6:23 a.m., Mei awakened and cradled her Kong toy for a couple of minutes a little later. A few minutes later, she resumed paw licking for two minutes, then continued on to combine cradling and nipple licking for a total of seven minutes.

Mei shifted out to the training cage at 8 a.m. and cooperated for an ultrasound. After she returned to the exhibit. she was observed urinating while lying on her back but she would not shift so we could collect the sample. She continues to eat well, although she still appears sleepy, and chews more slowly than what would be her norm. After the ultrasound, she returned to exhibit three, where she slept until 3 p.m.

When Mei Xiang awoke, she shifted to eat, consuming all of her produce, including the chow placed in the enrichment ball. After eating, she urinated and defecated, then retreated into the den, bringing bamboo with her. Mei became very restless at 4 p.m., attempting to climb the bars and putting her paws on the wall above the bed. She also tunneled into her hay and bamboo nest and head-pressed the wall. After all this activity, Mei folded herself over into a ball and managed to commence nipple/body licking. In the midst of this activity, out popped the Kong toy! Right about now, I am humming Gnarls Barkley’s song “Crazy”!

July 27

Mei Xiang showed very little maternal behavior, or any other activity, from yesterday afternoon until around midnight last night. During the middle of the night, FONZ volunteer behavior watchers saw her cradling and licking her Kong, as well as the grate she had removed from the drain in exhibit three. They saw an eight-minute episode of paw licking at 1:12 a.m., and brief paw licking and possible nipple or body licking later on.

When the keeper arrived this morning, Mei was cradling the grate again. Kong toys and drain grates! It is time for a real cub, pretty please! When the keeper closed Mei out of the den to retrieve the grate, Mei was very interested in returning to the den and waited beside the door. She shifted through exhibit two onto the patio and ate all her produce. Mei also got on the scale, and was weighed at 250 pounds. She produced a much-desired urine sample at 8:30 this morning. She was very alert, but when the produce was finished she took a piece of bamboo to the den to eat, before going to sleep. She is still in the den asleep.

July 26

Mei Xiang has shown very few pregnancy behaviors last night and today. She left the den at 8:30 a.m. and moved to rest in exhibit three. She shifted to exhibit two an hour later and urinated. A fresh sample, yay! Mei even did her special little dance at the door, asking to go outdoors this morning. There have been only two observations of paw licking, a brief one at 11:45 a.m., and a four-minute episode a half hour later. Mei still seems spacy when responding to her keeper.

Overnight, only one brief nest-building session and one Kong toy cradle and chew activity were observed.

July 25

Last night, Mei Xiang took some bamboo into the den at about midnight and adjusted it to her liking for about one minute. Later on, she had three bouts of paw licking, the longest period lasting two minutes. At 5:59 a.m., she resumed paw licking but only for two very brief bouts.

When the first keeper arrived at 7 a.m., Mei was responsive to her voice and came over to the den window for a piece of fruit. An hour later, Mei came out of the den and went into the training cage for ultrasound. Nothing definitive was observed. The uterine horns (where the uterus and the uterine tubes meet) are still enlarged and there are several of folds of tissue evident, each one raising our hopes for a visible cub. She remained in the training cage for about half an hour and ate her treats at a normal (as in not-pregnant behavior) rate. She declined apples after a while, but was otherwise content with her biscuits, pear, and sugar cane.

After eating and her play session with the gel, she moved back to the mountain rockwork in exhibit three and slept. When she awoke at 3 p.m., she moved to exhibit two to eat more biscuits from her enrichment ball, and bamboo. She looked so much like the Mei Xiang we know from any other time of the year. Only two bouts of paw licking were observed during the day. No urine was collected today, so we'll have to wait to conduct another hormone analysis.

July 24

Mei Xiang slept in exhibit three overnight again, as has been her recent routine. She had a brief bout of paw licking at around midnight and a second bout, lasting five minutes, at 1 a.m. There was a 15-minute nest-building session an hour later. She slept until 5 a.m. to resume paw licking for a few minutes, and then engaged in two more brief paw-licking sessions soon after.

She spent a couple of minutes nest building at 8 a.m., and had a 20-second bout of nipple licking during this activity. An hour later, she moved out to the exhibit again. At 9:30 she got up and urinated (a fresh sample!) and cooperated with us for an ultrasound exam. She was moderately alert. She consumed half of her biscuits and most of her pear. Mei also engaged in a play and scent-anointing session! She did not overlook the generous proportion of gel leftover on her belly, along with the remaining pear. What a sticky mess she created rolling the pear between her belly and chin while managing to rub her ears, all at the same time.

This afternoon Mei repeated the paw-licking behavior for a total of eight minutes over five sessions. No ano-genital licking was seen today. Mei is keeping us guessing and adding a whole new meaning, with all her individual nuances, to pregnancy behaviors. She is “consistently inconsistent,” as one of her keepers so perfectly stated.

July 23

Mei Xiang did not show any pregnancy behaviors from yesterday afternoon until this morning, when she dragged bamboo into the den at 4:45 a.m. and spent a minute nest building. Then she manipulated (licked, chewed, and held) the Kong toy for about four minutes. Mei spent most of today in her den. Another pregnancy-related behavior she exhibited today was some brief ano-genital licking. This behavior, when it lasts 15 minutes or longer, is associated with impending birth.

The next bout of behavior began at 8:25, when Mei spent 28 minutes engaged in nest building—carrying bamboo, moving the hay, and pawing at the floor. Of course, she also ate some of the bamboo, which contributes to the longer time frame. About two hours later, she had eight minutes of paw licking.

In the early afternoon, Mei did one and a half minutes of ano-genital licking then ate bamboo. She was quite restless for the next half hour. During this time, she nipple licked, on and off, for a total of seven minutes, and also spent time breaking and staring at a piece of bamboo. She paw licked for a minute and ended this restless period with a brief ano-genital lick before falling asleep.

Mei Xiang left her den at 3:20 and shifted onto the keeper area patio to eat produce and biscuits verrry slowly. She urinated at 4 p.m. Later on, she was resting on the rocks in exhibit three, which has been her pattern over the past few days. These behaviors correlate nicely with the downward trajectory of her progestin levels. We should hopefully know something soon.

July 22

Today is Mei Xiang's tenth birthday! We celebrated by rewarding her with two two-foot-long pieces of sugarcane, after coming out this morning for an ultrasound. It was a great effort on Mei’s part but once she entered the training cage, she settled down and cooperated for the procedure. She ate everything offered to her, although she did it in her slow and sleepy mode.

She is still keeping us guessing on all fronts: hormones, behavior, and ultrasound. After yesterday afternoon's observations—she cradled her Kong toy and licked her paw a couple of times—there were no pregnancy behaviors again until this morning. At 5:50 a.m. she was playing with her Kong toy, cradling and chewing it for five minutes.

To give you a sense of what our vigilant volunteer behavior watchers take note of, here is a list of this morning's observations:

5:50 – 5 min cradling, chewing Kong
5:57 – 2 min shredding bamboo
6:05 – 1 min shredding bamboo
6:19 – 4 min paw lick
9:01 – 1 min bamboo shredding
10:24 – 5 min paw/arm lick
10:36 – 5 min paw/arm lick

These behaviors are somewhat encouraging, although the episodes are brief. Mei Xiang is still leaving the den to rest on the rocks in the exhibit enclosures.

July 19

Mei Xiang has been spending most of her time resting on the rock work in the exhibit's indoor enclosures. Over the past 24 hours, we saw two very short bouts of ano-genital licking. Mei spent a few minutes licking her paws and also briefly building a nest—dragging bamboo to the den and eating it.

During the day today, she slept while on exhibit. When she woke up, at about 2:30 p.m., she dragged some bamboo into her den for a minute. She seemed less alert today, however she continues to respond to staff and shift from one enclosure to another. Today, she also paw licked for a minute. Mei also interacted with an enrichment ball and ate a biscuit as well as a good amount of bamboo. She is doing a great job of confusing us!

July 16

We would like to thank everyone who responded to our call for help for the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve in the wake of China's devastating earthquake in May. In just six weeks, more than 900 donors contributed more than $90,000, online and offline! Your generosity amazed us and exceeded our expectations.

July 14

Mei Xiang has been spending most of her time in den three. Typical for this stage of her pregnancy or pseudopregnancy, she prefers to keep to herself and sleep. On Thursday and Friday morning, we coaxed her out to the training cage for an ultrasound. It took a lot of effort from the panda, and her keepers. Just as we settled into position, Mei jumped up and then declined to return to complete the procedure.

She is generally comfortable and calm, and seems very introspective now. We can ask her persistently and nicely, offering all her favorite treats, and she will just sit and wait patiently for us to get the message. She will eat the treats and scent anoint with the ultrasound gel, but she cannot remain in the position we need because it is just not part of her plan for the day. Lethargy rules!

It is always amazing to see the effects of the now elevated hormone progesterone, which is responsible for the changes to a female’s body to support pregnancy. Mei is beginning to show maternal behaviors, such as cradling her Kong toy, licking and grooming her paws and nipples, and shredding bamboo. The keepers have added hay to her den for extra comfort.

The 24-hour FONZ volunteer behavior watch began this morning. Of course, we don't know whether Mei is pregnant or not, but we have finalized our plans for all possibilities relating to the birth of a single cub or twins. We are lucky to have so much information from our colleagues in the U.S. and China to help us prepare for the birth. This time around, we can also plan with additional confidence based on the knowledge gained from Mei Xiang’s own maternal behavior and experience.

Thanks again to hundreds of donors who are helping the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Center recover from earthquake damage. We have received more than $56,000 and are grateful for your generosity.

Tai ShanJuly 9

Tai Shan turned three today! He enjoyed a special fruitcicle made of water and gelatin in the shape of a three. He also received two tiered fruitcicles made of water, bamboo leaves, and various fruits and vegetables. Thanks to everyone who came to the Zoo today to celebrate the big day, and to the hundreds of you who have sent him birthday wishes online.

July 7

Mei Xiang is moving in slow motion these days, preferring to spend her time sleeping on the rock mountain inside, and sometimes in den three. She has found a special place that she molds her body on to, right on the edge of the mountain in enclosure two. She picks all the poses that epitomize comfort, resting on her arms either all tucked up or all stretched out in varied and always creative positions. Last week it took 20 minutes for her to come out for her ultrasound procedure. She must trek all the way from her inside enclosure, into the chute to the specially designed training cage, just outside the doorway. Once there, all she has to do is lie down with her belly exposed, while a keeper feeds her little tidbits of her favorite foods. What an effort it is now for her to travel this mere 50 to 60 feet. Even the reward of a fruitcicle or sugar cane may not draw her out. Just two weeks ago, she was her normal responsive self.

Mei is also beginning to leave some of her biscuits and produce, although not consistently. Every time we think she is going to establish a trend with her behaviors she changes her plans on us. We continue to plan for every possibility.

The 4-7 p.m. shift of the pregnancy (or pseudopregnancy) watch will begin tomorrow.

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