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Giant panda Update Jul 23, 2014

We celebrated Mei Xiang's birthday yesterday at the panda habitat. She turned 16 and received a special frozen treat for some extra enrichment. The next birthday we'll be celebrating is Bao Bao's! She's turning 1 year old in 31 days.

Bao Bao is an ambassador for her species. Her birth represents decades of cooperation between scientists in China and the United States. In the 42 years since Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing first arrived at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, scientists have learned much about giant panda reproduction. Their successes are represented by the more than 350 giant pandas now live in zoos and research centers around the world. And Chinese scientists are preparing to begin reintroducing pandas born in human care to the wild.

Bao Bao was born as the result of a precisely-timed artificial insemination performed by scientists from the Conservation Biology Institute and from China. SCBI scientists had tracked Mei Xiang's rising hormones, and keepers monitored her behavior to pin-point the short 48-hour window when she was in estrus. Thanks to giant panda biology, the next five months were a waiting game. Female giant pandas' behavior and hormones mimic a pregnancy even if they are not pregnant. But on August 23, 2013 after 16 days of 24-hour behavior watches the panda team learned that they had been successful when they saw Mei Xiang give birth to a tiny squawking cub.

We're asking all of our panda fans to help us celebrate giant panda conservation in honor of Bao Bao's birthday on twitter! Tweet a message about what Bao Bao represents for conservation and wish her a happy birthday using #BaoBaoBday. We'll also be sharing clips from the panda cam vaults and new photos of Bao Bao leading up to her birthday. So follow us @NationalZoo and use #BaoBaoBday!