For Release: April 5, 2007
John Gibbons (202) 633-3083 or (202) 391-4231
Pamela Baker-Masson (202) 633-3055
National Zoo Performs Artificial Inseminations On Its Female Giant Panda
Scientists and veterinarians at Smithsonian’s National Zoo performed two artificial inseminations on female giant panda, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG). The first procedure took place yesterday early evening and lasted for one hour and the second this morning at 6:16 a.m. for 35 minutes. Under general anesthesia, she was inseminated with thawed semen from Gao Gao (GOW-GOW), a male giant panda residing at the San Diego Zoo.
From the anesthetizing of Mei Xiang to returning her to her enclosure, the procedures took approximately 55 minutes to complete. Reproductive scientists at the National Zoo have spent years perfecting artificial insemination techniques on giant pandas. A significant scientific accomplishment for zoo scientists, these were the first procedures in which semen was shared between institutions in North America. Zoo staff will continue to monitor Mei Xiang’s hormone levels and conduct ultrasounds to see if she is pregnant.
Genetic analysis by National Zoo scientists showed that Gao Gao is a genetically valuable animal with a low mean kinship number (the number of living relatives an individual animal has in the captive population) which is an important selective factor in determining appropriate breeding pairs. Mei Xiang also is genetically valuable. Breeding the two will increase the proportion of valuable genes in the captive population, thus contributing to future genetic diversity. more
By contrast, the National Zoo’s male giant panda, Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), has a high mean kinship number—his genes are now well represented in the captive giant panda population. Genetic histories of the captive giant panda population are well documented and shared among academic institutions that breed the animals.
In cooperation with researchers at the San Diego Zoo, National Zoo reproductive scientists Dr. Jo Gayle Howard and Dr. Copper Aitken-Palmer collected and froze Gao Gao’s semen in March, using a new technique that improves sperm survival after thawing. New methods of freezing, transporting and thawing sperm will provide valuable opportunities for sperm banks to help maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.
The Zoo received approval for its breeding plans from the China Wildlife and Conservation Association (CWCA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which monitors giant panda research programs in the United States. The Zoo also received valuable assistance from the Zoological Society of San Diego.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will remain at the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat until 2010 as part of the 10-year loan agreement with the CWCA. Tai Shan (tie-SHON), born July 9, 2005, also will stay at the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat through at least fall 2007. He is supposed to go to China after his second birthday.
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