Keepers have noticed very slight changes in Mei Xiang’s behavior. In mid-June, our colleagues at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s endocrine lab analyzed the hormones in her urine and detected a rise of progestogens. While this could indicate the possibility of implantation, it does not confirm a true pregnancy since giant panda females can have pseudopregnancies. Behaviorally, around this time Mei Xiang began bringing bamboo into her den and constructing a small nest.
As Mei Xiang nears the end of her pregnancy or pseudopregnancy, we would expect to see her spend much more time nest-building and resting in her den. She might also lose interest in food. Lately, she has been spending time outside and continues to have a hearty appetite. Other behaviors, such as cradling objects and reacting to noise or medical procedures, can also indicate we are nearing the end of the window, but Mei Xiang has not demonstrated these behaviors.
To track Mei Xiang’s pregnancy or pseudopregnancy, we conduct weekly ultrasounds in the training chute to examine her uterus for any signs of a cub. During her most recent procedure, our veterinary team did not see evidence of a fetus. Although they noted some changes to her uterus, it does not appear to be developing further. As long as Mei Xiang chooses to participate, we will continue to monitor her via ultrasound.
Since her appetite has not decreased, we reward her ultrasound participation by offering her chunks of carrot and apple, which are part of her normal diet, or we may offer honey water—a super special treat—as an added incentive to participate. Once the procedure is over, Mei Xiang scent-anoints by rubbing the ultrasound gel all over herself. We always get a kick out of it!