For Release: March 26, 2007
John Gibbons (202) 633-3083 or (202) 391-4231
Amy Kehns (202) 633-3081 or (202) 309-5543
Smithsonian’s National Zoo Announces Breeding Plan for Giant Pandas
As part of the National Zoo’s giant panda research program in the United States and in China and to bolster genetic variability in the zoo giant panda population, National Zoo staff plan to artificially inseminate their female Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) with semen from one of San Diego Zoo’s male giant pandas, Gao Gao (GOW-GOW) should Mei Xiang begin her estrus this spring.
Genetic analysis shows that Gao Gao is a genetically valuable animal with a low mean kinship number. The mean kinship figure represents the number of living relatives a particular individual has in the zoo population; it is an important selective factor in determining appropriate breeding pairs. Mei Xiang also has a low mean kinship number and is genetically valuable. Breeding the two will increase the proportion of valuable genes in the population, thus contributing to future genetic diversity.
Gao Gao has had two offspring at the San Diego Zoo and plans include pairing him again this year with Bai Yun (bye-YOON), one of the San Diego Zoo’s females.
By contrast, the National Zoo’s male giant panda, Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), has a high mean kinship number—his genes are over-represented in the zoo giant panda population, which makes him a low breeding priority. As a result, breeding Tian Tian and Mei Xiang would mix over-represented genes with valuable genes; thus diluting the valuable genes and decrease genetic diversity in the future population.
In cooperation with researchers at the San Diego Zoo, National Zoo reproductive scientist Dr. JoGayle Howard collected and froze Gao Gao’s semen earlier this month, 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 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 until at least this fall. He is supposed to go to China at some point after he turns 2 years old. Gao Gao will remain at the San Diego Zoo.
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Note to editors: Photos of Mei Xiang are available by calling the Zoo’s Office of Public Affairs.