Mei Xiang

Mei Xiang continues to keep us guessing. Last week we saw her hormones decreasing and her activity increasing. With no evidence of a fetus on the daily ultrasounds, we were beginning to await the end of a pseudopregnancy. However, during the past two days she has remained in her den, eating very little, cradling her toys, and body licking. She has not given us a urine sample to check for hormones or been willing to participate in ultrasound, so we can’t confirm what this behavior means. This is a reminder that it is important for us to have pandas at the Zoo as every new behavior is a valuable data point that helps us understand more about the reproductive habits of these amazing animals.



July 11, 2011 at 3:38 am Leave a comment

Giant panda gives birth in rain-soaked SW China

CHENGDU, July 7 (Xinhua) — A giant panda gave birth to a cub, which was said to be the first one in the world this year, on Thursday in rain-battered Sichuan Province.

The panda, nicknamed “Su Lin,” produced the cub at 12:36 p.m. at a semi-wild training ground in the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, said its feeder.

Several hours later, the panda delivered a second but stillborn cub, according to the feeder.

As continuous heavy rains and mudslides damage roads and electric power facilities in Wolong, workers have been using diesel generators to ensure power supply for the center.

Su Lin was born at the San Diego Zoo in the United States in August 2005. The panda was transferred to the Bifengxia breeding base in the city of Ya’an in Sichuan in September 2010. In mid-June, the pregnant panda was released into the semi-wild training ground in Wolong to give birth there.

On Wednesday, provincial forestry authorities said a male wild giant panda, aged about 10, drowned in the township of Yingxiu in Sichuan. They said the panda probably drowned after it was swept into a section of the Minjiang River by rain-triggered floods and mudslides.


July 11, 2011 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

China releases two more captive-bred giant pandas into the wild

CHENGDU, June 16 (Xinhua) — Researchers at a giant panda breeding base in southwest China’s Sichuan Province released two pregnant giant pandas into a semi-wild environment near the base on Thursday, as part of the base’s efforts to help more captive-bred pandas adapt to the wild.

The pandas, nicknamed “Ying Ying” and “Su Lin,” were the second and third captive-bred pregnant pandas to be released into the semi-wild training ground near the base, said a spokesman with the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center.

The prospective mothers were moved to two separate semi-wild training grounds on the Wolong Nature Reserve, said the spokesman.

In July 2010, a pregnant panda nicknamed “Cao Cao” was released into a semi-wild training ground on the reserve during her pregnancy. A month later, she gave birth to “Tao Tao,” a male cub.

Cao Cao and Tao Tao were found to be healthy and had acquired the basic skills they would need to survive in the wild, said the spokesman.

In February, Cao Cao and her cub were transferred to a larger training base.

After the success of Cao Cao, researchers planned to expand their training program by releasing six more pregnant pandas, including Ying Ying and Su Lin, into a semi-wild environment in 2011.

Two more semi-wild training grounds have been built to accommodate the pandas. Zoologists will keep a close eye on the pandas by using infrared surveillance cameras installed on the grounds.

China’s plan to save its endangered pands by releasing captive-bred pandas back into the wild began in 2003, with a male cub nicknamed “Xiang Xiang.”

Xiang Xiang was released into the wild in 2006, but was found dead 10 months later in a remote corner of the Wolong Nature Reserve. He had apparently been attacked and killed by wild pandas native to the area.

The panda training program was resumed last year at two panda research centers in Wolong and Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province.

Giant pandas have faced reproductive struggles in captivity. Only about 24 percent of female captive pandas end up giving birth, posing a serious threat to repopulation.


June 17, 2011 at 1:40 am Leave a comment

Panda pregnancy? No one knows, but zoo prepares


If one of the pandas residing in Cleveland Park gets pregnant this spring, and if the pregnancy progresses to birth, and even if the panda mother can’t or won’t nurse her cub, the panda keepers at the National Zoo have a plan.

Make that a formula. But as long-time panda-watchers know, there’s nothing certain about panda pregnancy or birth. Just because giant panda Mei Xiang has been busy constructing a nest of bamboo and mulberry branches, and red panda Shama has something in her tummy that feels like a new cub, doesn’t mean that there is a panda cub (or cubs) on the way.

Got that? No certainty. It’s important to manage expectations in this panda-crazed town.

But if a panda were to pop out, the zoo staff is ready.

“I wasn’t this prepared for having my own kids,” said senior curator Brandie Smith as she worked over the multi-page protocols Wednesday morning, just two quick hops from an incubator that could be used, if necessary, to ease a panda’s transition into the world.

Within arm’s reach, under the guidance of two nutritionists, about 10 young staff members practiced making panda formula — part puppy milk formula, part human infant formula (Enfamil), part distilled water, all strained at least three times to eliminate any clumps which could get caught in a bottle’s nipple and be aspirated by the tiny newborn. No blender is used because it can break down important fats. It will be heated in a warm-water bath because microwaves can also alter the milk’s chemistry.

The hand-produced formula has the consistency of buttermilk, creamy and thick, and a grassy bouquet, resonant of romps in bamboo forests.

But maybe the formula won’t have to be used at all.

“Always our first choice is to leave them with the mother,” said nutritionist Karen Lisi.

“Our goal is to never have to do this. Mei Xiang was a great mother the first time around and we expect her to be a great mother again,” Smith said.

But nature, red in tooth and claw, can intervene. In the wild, giant pandas often give birth to twins and simply choose to nurse the stronger of the two cubs. If that happens in captivity, the National Zoo staff will do everything it can to keep the other cub of this endangered species alive, including hand-feeding it every three hours, 18 hours a day, for six months.

Despite their cuddly appearance and their appeal to zoo visitors, giant pandas are first and foremost bears. Separating a mother bear from her cub is not something one does in the wild without risking severe injury.

At the zoo, however, the staff has to be able to remove a butter-stick-size newborn from its mother without causing trauma.

Shama, the red panda, who is most likely pregnant, is being trained to accept that if the staff takes a much-loved object from her, it will be returned. Standing in for a cub at the moment is a pear, and Shama is growing used to the idea of trusting that her favorite treat, once taken away, will be returned.

Red pandas are much smaller than their giant neighbors and are more closely related to raccoons than bears. Like the bears, however, it remains to be seen whether she will be willing to surrender a cub.

June 1, 2011 at 9:30 pm Leave a comment

New pictures from Bifengxia….

May 23, 2011 at 5:09 am Leave a comment

The world of the wild panda trackers


Liang Chunping and Luo Chunping are members of one of the world’s smallest professions. They are wild panda trackers employed by the Wanglang National Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, home to nearly 300 giant pandas.

Liang and Luo, both at their 30s, share the same given name and the same passion for nature. They joined the reserve after leaving the army ten years ago and have been chasing giant pandas through the bamboo forests of the reserve ever since. They were trained by zoologists, but mainly rely on their instincts and physical fitness to keep pace with their surprisingly sprightly and elusive quarry.

The trackers are currently collecting preliminary data for China’s fourth national Giant Panda census, due to take place in June. The previous census counted 1,200 wild pandas in Sichuan Province, including 260 in the Wanglang reserve.

When three reporters from joined them, Liang and Luo were collecting images and data from 36 infrared cameras recently installed around the 322-square-kilometer reserve. They also collect Panda droppings for DNA analysis. The DNA allows zoologists to track individual pandas and accurately estimate the number of pandas living in the wild.

Wanglang is the first reserve to use infrared cameras. Camera surveillance allows researchers to monitor the activities of the pandas at different seasons and weather patterns, and helps with conservation planning. Other reserves are likely to follow suit.

If trekking through mountain foliage sounds tough, the reality is even tougher. There are no paths at all and the reporters struggled to keep up with the trackers — who kindly pointed out they would normally cover the same ground in one third of the time.

People think pandas are fat and clumsy, Liang said. But that’s because they only see them in zoos. In their natural habitat things are very different.

“Wild pandas have very acute sense of hearing and smell. They are actually very agile,” said Liang, “A 20-minute route for a wild panda would take a human two hours,” he said. Tracking pandas is hard work even for the professionals it seems.

Luo and Liang stopped from time to time to sniff tree trunks for panda urine and check bamboo stalks for bite marks. Whenever they find a trace of panda activity they use their GPS to record the exact location. They also collect trash left by careless hikers.

As we were finally running out of breath at an attitude of 2,975 meters, we arrived at a camera emplacement. Luo and Liang carefully took the camera from its hiding place amid bamboo stalks. Luckily, the camera had captured two images of a panda, one of its head and the other of its rear. The camera recorded the panda visited at 6 pm on April 17.

After retrieving the information they needed, the patrollers replaced the camera. Regularly checking the cameras is now part of their daily routine.

Asked if he ever gets bored living in the mountains with no cell phone connection, TV or Internet, Luo said, “If you stay here long enough, you fall in love with the fresh air and the amazing views. Every day brings a new challenge. The reserve is my home, and there’s no place like home.”

May 18, 2011 at 4:31 am 1 comment

Lin Hui shows pregnancy signs after artificial insemination


MAI, 13 May 2011 (NNT) – Mother panda Lin Hui might be pregnant again after going through an artificial insemination due to her display of pregnancy signs while officials are keeping a close observation during this period.

Mr Prasertsak Boontrakulpoonthawee, chief of the panda research project at Chiang Mai Zoo, indicated that after the second attempt to artificially inseminate Lin Hui, early signs of pregnancy had been detected. The mother panda is reportedly developing behavioral changes, such as sleeping and eating more than usual as well as being extra cautious in her movements. Physical and hormonal changes have also been discovered.

Mr Prasertsak assured that authorities would keep a close eye on Lin Hui, especially over the next two months when more indications of pregnancy were anticipated if any. As the mother carried her first cub Lin Ping for 97 days, the research chief projected that her next baby would take her a comparable amount of time before delivery.

On 27 May this year, Chiang Mai Zoo is scheduled to organize a celebration for Lin Ping on the occasion of her second birthday anniversary. The event will, at the same time, welcome China’s permission for the panda cub to stay in Thailand for two more years as well as the chance for Lin Hui to give birth to the new baby in the near future.

May 16, 2011 at 7:16 pm Leave a comment

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