The teenager is Mei Xiang, the female giant panda at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. It was her second successful pregnancy with 15-year-old Tian Tian, the zoo’s male giant panda, in seven years.
“We are thrilled that Mei Xiang had a successful pregnancy since 2005,” said Dennis Kelly, the zoo’s director. “I’m cautiously optimistic as we haven’t seen the cub yet, but we know that Mei is a good mother. Like everyone else, I’m glued to the panda cam for my first glimpse of the cub!”
Kelly isn’t the only one watching the “panda cam” that monitors the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. So many people are trying to get a glimpse of the new cub that the streaming video online is getting jammed. MTV and TLC, take notice.
People’s excitement to see the new cub comes partly because there aren’t that many pandas to see. The giant panda is one of the most endangered species in the world. There are estimated to be only 1,900 still in existence — well, now 1,901.
One reason for the small number of pandas is their low success rate when it comes to mating. Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated, and she went through the procedure several times before finally getting pregnant. The chances of Mei Xiang conceiving a cub after five consecutive pseudopregnancies since 2007 was estimated to be less than 10%.
Well, they say timing is everything when it comes to conceiving.
According to a press release from the National Zoo, timing was probably a contributing factor for Mei Xiang. This April, she returned to a more normal estrus cycle. From 2009 to 2011 she went into estrus in January.
Mei Xiang (pronounced may-SHONG) and Tian Tian are part of the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement signed in January 2011 by the zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This agreement is intended to help scientists do research on the panda, preserve the species, and breed them.
“The most important thing we do is research to help save this species and lots of other species,” said Kelly to a crowd of reporters. “Conservation is costly, saving species is costly, and we’re proud to participate.”
The agreement extends the zoo’s giant panda program through 2015.
That’s plenty of time for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to possibly have another cub. It also gives cable networks time to get their cameras and contracts ready. Don’t be surprised if you see “Panda and Pregnant” or “A Panda’s Baby Story” coming to a TV near you.