National zoo helping panda couple make babies after courtship

Tian Tian (left) and Mei Xiang (right) look at each other through the "howdy" window that separates their yards March 28, 2019. (Betsy Herrelko/Smithsonian's National Zoo)

WASHINGTON — It's a very special time of year for giant pandas, and the Smithsonian National Zoo wasted no time helping one couple along!

On March 15, the Smithsonian National Zoo scientists and keepers began to notice Mei Xiang, a female panda, acting a little differently, a sign of mating season.

Female pandas are only able to become pregnant for 24 to 72 hours each year, meaning the window for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, a male, to have a baby is very small.

To make sure the zoo didn't miss its chance, the panda team artificially inseminated Mei Xiang.

"It’s time to wait and see if we were successful," said Steven Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

It'll still be another several months until the zoo knows for sure if Mei Xiang is pregnant.

Monfort added that the signs were very clear, and they have been keeping a close eye on Mei Xiang to make sure their timing was perfect.

Some of those signs include wandering around, acting restless, vocalizing and playing in water.

After weeks of Tian Tian calling to Mei Xiang, the female panda finally began to respond to his calls on Thursday.

The Zoo's plan for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to have a baby has the special approval from the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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