Giant Pandas in Summertime

Activity at the giant panda habitat has slowed since the flurry of breeding season in May. Keepers, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists and veterinarians were monitoring Mei Xiang very closely to determine when she would ovulate. Her chance to conceive a cub arrived May 25. Now, almost two months later, it’s the calm before they start scrutinizing Mei Xiang’s hormones again.   

Tian Tian has long stopped exhibiting behaviors associated with breeding. He is no longer patrolling along the shared wall of Mei Xiang’s enclosure, calling to her, or leaving scent marks. Lately, he’s been enjoying cold summer treats like frozen sugarcane and fruitsicles.

Mei Xiang has also stopped showing any interest in Tian Tian. “Right now, Mei Xiang is her normal self,” says Laurie Thompson, assistant curator of giant pandas. “She’s doing her normal routine—like the other pandas—where she’s going out and napping, eating, and doing her thing.”

 That will change toward the end of the summer and early autumn. Mei Xiang will become less interested in going outside but rather will spend most of her time building a nest for a potential cub. Eventually, her appetite will decrease, and she will stop going outside. During that time, Mei Xiang continues to be responsive but doesn't quite pay attention to the outside world. “She’s in her own world and spends a lot of time in her den,” she says. 

That phase could end in a few possible ways: the birth of a cub; a miscarriage; reabsorption—a phenomenon where food and blood supply to the fetus is stopped and the placenta becomes useless, at which point, the fetus has very little bone content and is simply reabsorbed into the female’s body; or a pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy) where the female exhibits all signs and symptoms of a pregnancy despite not being pregnant. The only way for veterinarians to determine if Mei Xiang is pregnant is to see a fetus on an ultrasound because her hormones and behavior will mimic a pregnancy even if she is experiencing a pseudopregnancy.

Before any hormonal changes begin and Mei Xiang's appetite decreases, she will get a special treat for her 19th birthday July 22. Tune in to the panda cams around 9 a.m. to watch her enjoy her frozen cake.

 Bei Bei continues to be his playful self. The panda cams caught him having fun climbing and falling out of the trees in his yard over the July 4th holiday. Giant pandas are built to withstand falls and have a very thick cushion of fur, so Bei Bei easily bounced back from each tumble. He has been perfecting his climb-and-tumble routine since he was a small cub, but at 160 pounds he inflicts more damage on the trees now. Much like Bao Bao at this age, he prefers his independence to interacting with the keepers. However, he makes it very clear whenever he wants something.