Artificial Insemination For Giant Panda Completed At National Zoo

By @hyaluronidase on
Giant Panda Mei Xiang
IN PHOTO: Giant panda Mei Xiang enjoys her afternoon nap at the National Zoo in Washington in this August 23, 2007 file photo. National Zoo staff announced October 11, 2012 that Mei Xiang's most recent cub, which was born September 16 and died six days later, succumbed to liver disease caused by inadequately formed lungs. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Files

Mei Xiang, the female giant panda from Smithsonian’s National Zoo, has undergone an artificial insemination performed by reproductive scientists. The zoo announced on Monday that the procedures have been completed in hopes that Mei Xiang would become pregnant and give birth to cubs.

Two artificial insemination procedures have been performed. The first one was done on Saturday, April 25, at 6 p.m. and another one on Sunday, April 26, at 7:30 a.m., according to the WUSA 9 report. The panda was sedated throughout the procedure, which lasted about an hour for each, zoo officials said.

This is the first attempt at using the semen from China’s Hui Hui, who has not fathered cubs since, as experts believe he and Mei Xiang are a good genetic match. Mei Xiang had already given birth to cubs with the zoo’s own panda, Tian Tian, through artificial insemination. However, scientists believe that cubs sired by Tian Tian would be less valuable than those by Hui Hui.

Hui Hui’s semen arrived on April 21 from China and was reportedly given a first class treatment on the plane. "This is the first time we have imported semen from China for panda breeding," said zoo director Dennis Kelly.

The zoo has provided a live video feed of the first procedure on Twitter with the use of a perioscope. The zoo’s Instagram account also documented the transfer of the semen from China to the cryopreservation bank at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, or SCBI.

Jon Ballou of the SCBI made calculations to determine which semen makes the best match for Mei Xiang. The mathematical formula for calculating genetic matches was originally used in breeding golden lion tamarins in the 1990s but can be now used to preserve the population of vulnerable species.

Breeding season for pandas only comes once a year, every spring, and lasts only between two to seven days. Natural mating proves to be difficult, which is why most scientists are forced to carry out an artificial insemination.

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