- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Love is in the air at the National Zoo’s panda house.

The zoo’s female panda, Mei Xiang, has begun her annual mating season and had two mating encounters yesterday with the male panda, Tian Tian, zoo spokeswoman Peper Long said.

“I don’t think there’s been a strong successful mating yet, but we still have time to give them,” Miss Long said.

The pandas will get several more opportunities over the next several days before zoo officials try artificial insemination.

Last year, Tian Tian did not show enough sustained interest in mating with Mei Xiang for a successful breeding. An attempt at artificial insemination also was unsuccessful.

This year, the zoo is hoping to give the pandas a better chance for success by closing their exhibit to the public during the mating period.

March through early April is the typical mating season for pandas, with the females being only fertile for three to four days a year.

Experts in China and at other U.S. zoos also have advised that the pandas be brought inside and separated to create expectation between the two. They will be put together for brief periods, then separated, with that process repeated at different times.

Those who want to see the panda’s progress for themselves can check out the panda cams on the National Zoo’s Web site, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/GiantPandas/. Those cameras are operated by behavior monitors who are looking for signs that Mei Xiang is pregnant.

Mei Xiang, 6, and Tian Tian, 7, are the National Zoo’s second pair of giant pandas. Both went on exhibit in December 2000 on a 10-year loan from China.

Mei Xiang has not been pregnant, although she experienced a pseudopregnancy in 2003. The zoo said any baby would belong to China and would likely be sent there.

The zoo’s previous panda pair — Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing — bred successfully four times and produced five cubs, but none lived longer than a few days.

The only successful panda breeding in the United States occurred at the San Diego Zoo, where two cubs have been reared.

All four U.S. zoos with pandas — the National Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, the San Diego Zoo and the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee — are trying to mate their panda couples.

There are only 1,600 pandas in the wild and about 225 in captivity.

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