WASHINGTON – A giant panda at Washington’s zoo surprised scientists and zookeepers by becoming a mom again after years of failed pregnancies.
Scientists at the zoo had all but given up on 14-year-old Mei Xiang’s chances of conceiving, but they were watching the panda for a possible cub nonetheless after she was artificially inseminated earlier this year. She gave birth late Sunday, her first cub since 2005.
Like all newborn pandas, the cub is pink, hairless and about the size of a stick of butter. Officials will follow Chinese custom and give it a name after 100 days.
Four American zoos have pandas, but Washington’s pandas have special significance. The zoo was given its first set of pandas in 1972 as a gift from China to commemorate President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the country.
Mei Xiang and her mate Tian Tian, were born in China and are the second pair of pandas to live at the zoo.
Mei Xiang gave birth to her first and only other cub, a male named Tai Shan, in 2005. Since 2007, zoo officials have had five unsuccessful attempts at artificially inseminating Mei Xiang. Each time, she went through what is called a “pseudopregnancy,” building a nest and experiencing high hormone levels. But each time there was no cub.