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Behavior Watch for Mei Xiang Begins

  • Giant panda Mei Xiang eating

The panda team is still waiting to find out if Mei Xiang will give birth or if she is experiencing a pseudopregnancy. Giant pandas’ hormones and behavior mimic a pregnancy even if they are experiencing a pseudopregnancy. The only way to definitively tell if a female is pregnant before she gives birth is to detect a fetus on an ultrasound. Keepers and veterinarians have been working with Mei Xiang to make her comfortable with ultrasounds and incorporate them into her regular routine since July. She has been choosing to participate in them, and veterinarians have been tracking changes in her reproductive tract, but they have not seen anything definitive yet.

Specially trained volunteers with Friends of the National Zoo and the panda team began a 24-hour-a-day behavior watch on Mei Xiang Sept. 5. They are monitoring her through the panda cams and recording data on the different behaviors she displays. She has been exhibiting behaviors consistent with pregnancy and pseudopregnancy, as the panda team expected. She is usually more alert in the mornings and has been greeting keepers at the door to her enclosure when they start their day, but then spends most of her day sleeping. In the afternoons, she often wakes up and nest-builds in her den for short periods.

Since Mei Xiang is spending all of her time inside the panda house, which is closed to provide quiet for her, Tian Tian has been spending time in his yard and Mei Xiang’s yard. He has also been taking advantage of the cooler autumn temperatures that have descended on the Washington, D.C., area and occasionally naps outside.

Tian Tian had a routine blood draw yesterday, and really enjoyed the scent of the rubbing alcohol that veterinarians used to disinfect the area around the vein where they took the sample. After the blood draw he scent-anointed himself with the alcohol—rubbing it all over his ears, head and belly. Giant pandas will scent-anoint themselves with different smells that they like. He even stuck his arm back out in the blood draw position after he was finished, as if he was asking for more.

Bei Bei has been spending the majority of his time outside lately and is also enjoying the cooler weather. Last week, he played in his yard, lazily splashing in his pool, rolling around with puzzle feeders and balls, and napping in the trees. He is 165 pounds now and counting!