The National Zoo has posted an update that brings happy news about the birth of four Red Pandas but sad news that Mei Xiang has experienced a pseudopregnancy.
Congratulations to the zoo about the four red panda cubs, this is wonderful news for dear momma Shama who lives at the zoo and who's photo we have here thanks to Unka Bobby of flickr.
Shama, the female red panda at the Zoo’s Asia Trail, gave birth to two cubs in her den June 17. Keepers suspected that she was caring for offspring when she did not respond to their call that morning. A slight squeal was the first indication of a cub. Zoo staff left the mother alone to bond with and care for the cubs in their den. On the seventh day keepers conducted a quick cub check and, with a one-minute window of opportunity, were able to confirm two cubs in the nest box. Likewise, red panda Lao Mei at the Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal gave birth to two cubs June 5. Keepers have confirmed both cubs are female and have opened their eyes.
Staff is taking precautions to not interfere with the cubs during this critical time. As the opportunity presents itself, they enter the den areas to weigh the cubs and assess their health. Keepers wear a second set of cloth gloves over their standard rubber gloves, which have been rubbed with nesting material and scented with the mother’s feces to cover human scents. All four newborns are steadily gaining weight and appear healthy.
The red panda exhibit is currently closed to visitors for the safety and well being of the mother and cubs. As the cubs grow stronger, the keepers and Friends of the National Zoo volunteers will watch for Shama to allow her cubs to venture out of the den in early fall. At that point, staff will evaluate when the exhibit can be reopened for public viewing. The red pandas in Front Royal have a brand new facility that includes nine outdoor enclosures equipped with numerous insulated dens. Red pandas are born annually and more than 100 surviving cubs have been born at both the Front Royal and Washington facilities since 1962.
National Zoo scientists, veterinarians, keepers and volunteers from the Friends of the National Zoo were keeping a close eye on giant panda Mei Xiang, monitoring her hormone levels and behavior, as well as conducting daily ultrasound exams in an attempt to determine if she was pregnant. (Note: Mei Xiang stopped participating in the ultrasound exams after July 3 and remained exclusively in her den.) In late June, her level of urinary progesterone (a hormone associated with pregnancy) began to gradually decline. Upon reaching normal baseline levels, this decline would end in either the birth of a cub or the end of a pseudopregnancy. Based on changes in her behavior, hormone levels and a lack of fetus observed during the ultrasound exams, Zoo researchers have determined that Mei Xiang experienced a pseudopregnancy.
Giant pandas ovulate just once a year. Females undergo a pseudopregnancy when they ovulate but fail to conceive. During a pseudopregnancy, hormonal changes and behaviors are identical to those of a true pregnancy, making it very difficult to determine if a giant panda is actually pregnant or not. This is the sixth time Mei Xiang has had a pseudopregnancy. She gave birth once in 2005 to a male cub, Tai Shan.