A 24-hour pregnancy watch of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s female giant panda Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) is slated to begin today at 4 p.m. A corps of more than 40 Friends of the National Zoo volunteers and animal care staff will closely monitor the panda for maternal behaviors through keeper interactions and a series of 38 cameras set up throughout the giant panda habitat. The public can also tune into the National Zoo’s Giant Panda cam online to track her activities and view a birth should it occur.
FONZ volunteers have undergone hours of training to participate in the around-the-clock watch and have learned to identify and record a variety of behaviors, such as nest building and cradling of small objects by Mei Xiang. The volunteers will log her behavior both continuously and at five-minute intervals. Most recently, volunteer watchers have observed Mei Xiang spending more time shredding bamboo in her den to make a nest.
The watch is being instituted today after Zoo scientists determined that Mei Xiang’s hormone levels are approaching baseline, indicating that the end of her pseudo—or real—pregnancy is near. Within 24 hours of reaching baseline, the world will either see a new cub—or not. Data collected during the pregnancy watch will influence the Zoo’s future management of the species and hopefully result in a greater understanding of the giant panda’s unique and mysterious reproductive biology.
In anticipation of increased traffic to the pandacam, the Zoo will limit each view to five minutes per session. Visitors must refresh their browser to view the webcam again, and they will either return immediately to the cam or, if the site has too much traffic, be asked to try again later.