National Zoo Panda's Recent 'Behavioral Changes' Could Mean She Is Pregnant

The National Zoo should know by the end of August whether panda Mei Xiang is experiencing pregnancy or pseudopregnancy.

Mei Xiang sleeping on the rocks in her enclosure inside the panda house.
Photo: Smithsonian National Zoo

Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute shared some news about their panda Mei Xiang.

The female panda “has been displaying subtle behavioral changes during the past few weeks, but they have become more pronounced in the last 24 hours,” according to a release from the Washington D.C. zoo.

On Wednesday morning, Mei Xiang chose to stay inside and sleep, instead of munching on bamboo in her outdoor habitat like usual. In addition, the animal’s hormones are on the rise. These changes could mean that the panda is pregnant, but it’s more complicated than measuring the bear’s hormones.

Panda bears go through the same hormone fluctuations during a pregnancy and pseudopregnancy.

“Hormones and behavior are not indicators of a pregnancy in giant pandas because they experience the same hormonal changes and behavioral changes even if they are not pregnant. The only way to definitively determine if a giant panda is pregnant before she gives birth is to detect a developing fetus on an ultrasound. Veterinarians have been conducting regular ultrasounds to track changes in Mei Xiang’s reproductive tract, but they have not seen anything yet,” the zoo said.

Zookeepers expect to have a definitive answer by the end of August.

“They will have their answer by the end of August, because Mei Xiang is in her secondary hormone rise — or the 40-50 days when her levels of progesterone start to rise — signaling that she will either give birth to a cub or enter the final stages of a pseudopregnancy in the next several weeks,” the zoo added. “When Mei Xiang’s hormone levels return to baseline, she will either give birth to a cub or her behavior will return to normal.”

To ensure that Mei Xiang is comfortable during these changes, whether it is a pregnancy or a pseudopregnancy, the zoo had decided to close the panda house to visitors, to allow Mei Xiang the chance to enjoy her rest without interruption. Guests can still visit the National Zoo’s other pandas, Bei Bei and Tian Tian, in the outdoor panda exhibit.

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