Zoo gets busy in bid to grow panda ranks

By Chen Weihua in Washington | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-03-02 11:09
Zoo gets busy in bid to grow panda ranks

Just eight days after the departure of its beloved giant panda Bao Bao, the Smithsonian's National Zoo is embarking on producing new cubs.

The indoor pavilion of the David Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat was temporarily closed on Wednesday for the artificial insemination procedures conducted with 19-year-old male giant panda Tian Tian, according to a volunteer working at the habitat.

A zoo public relations officer said it was a medical checkup for Tian Tian and would not confirm if it was part of the artificial insemination program. Giant panda curators could not be reached on Wednesday.

The three surviving giant pandas born at the National Zoo were all conceived via artificial insemination, with the first one, Tai Shan, born in 2005, Bao Bao in 2013 and Bei Bei in 2015. Most of the artificial inseminations were conducted in March or April, including Bao Bao in March of 2013.

Meanwhile, 18-month-old male cub Bei Bei was separated from his mom Mei Xiang on Tuesday. Giant panda cubs in the wild usually separate from their mothers at a year and a half, according to the zoo.

On Wednesday noon and early afternoon, Bei Bei and his mother Mei Xiang both appeared restless strolling around in their adjoining yards separated by a wall. The zoo volunteer said they had been very calm earlier, napping and resting, but then grew very active for a long while.

Several times, Bei Bei stood against the wooden wall separating him from his mother acting as if he and his mother could smell each other. Bei Bei also climbed his trees several times but came down each time after just a few minutes.

In a zoo press release on Feb 22, a day after Bao Bao's departure, Bei Bei was described as "becoming more independent and confident every day" and "growing like a weed."

"Several months ago, we started seeing the first signs that Mei Xiang was preparing to wean him. She is much less accommodating for nursing sessions, which is normal because Bei Bei has not been nutritionally dependent on Mei Xiang for several months," the zoo said.

Any nursing sessions Bei Bei has are for comfort rather than food. He is 131 pounds now, the zoo said on Feb 22.

Keepers gave Mei Xiang and Bei Bei their first opportunity to spend time together on Feb 22 in Yard 3, Bao Bao's old yard. "If Bei Bei becomes familiar with this yard while he is still living with Mei Xiang, then his transition to living on his own will be much smoother. Everything went well this morning," according to the Feb 22 press release.


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