National Zoo's Giant Panda Not Pregnant

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Panda fans hoping to experience the joy of parenthood once again will have to wait it out another year.

That’s because Smithsonian’s National Zoo staff confirmed Tuesday that Mei Xiang is not pregnant, following a final ultrasound and hormone check-up. Bummer, I know.

In March, I visited the zoo during one of their weekly ultrasounds to find out if the panda was in fact pregnant. The results at that time were inconclusive, but now according to staff, Mei was experiencing a pseudopregnancy during the last several months.

Click on the image to the right to watch video of National Zoo staff conducting an ultrasound on Mei Xiang.

During a pseudo, or false pregnancy, hormonal changes and behaviors are identical to those of a true pregnancy, making it almost impossible to find out if a panda is pregnant or not. This is the fifth time Mei’s had a pseudopregnancy. Zoo officials said they’re not entirely sure why these false pregnancies occur, although they’re a natural occurrence in some species, including pandas.

Giant pandas ovulate just once a year. Mei’s first and only birth – to Tai Shan – was in 2005. In February, the male cub and arguably most popular animal ever to live at the National Zoo was sent back to China to become part of their breeding program.

Update: National Zoo staff sent me a link to a video that describes how their lab technicians monitor animal hormones to figure out that Mei Xiang wasn’t pregnant.

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