How the National Zoo Tried to Get Panda Couple to Mate

  • Pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, will leave their enclosure in DC next year.
  • During their time at the National Zoo, staff tried to get Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to mate.
  • Zoo staff ended up having to artificially inseminate Mei Xiang with Tian Tian’s semen.

Before the National Zoo’s beloved giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, had their cub Xiao Qi Ji in 2020, zoo staff struggled to get the couple to mate.

Zoo curators tried nearly every method, The Washington Post reported: dimming the lights of the couple’s enclosure, reducing noise levels, and even putting Tian Tian, the male panda, on a fitness program to build up his stamina.

“We’re getting him in shape. We’re building up his stamina … I think Tian is in pretty good shape, but, you know what, we’re turning him into an Olympic athlete,” Brandi Smith, the zoo’s director, told the Post in 2011.

One of the exercises was to get Tian Tian to stand as tall as he could to work out his legs, according to the newspaper. For Mei Xiang, curators had her lie on a log to help her prepare for when Tian Tian approached her. Mei Xiang had a habit of lying flat on the ground, which made it harder for Tian Tian to mate, The Post reported.

A National Zoo spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment sent during the weekend.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in the US from China in 2000 as part of the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement between the two countries, according to the zoo. The agreement was established to study the reproduction of and maintain the wild population of giant pandas.

The research agreement was renewed three times.

A giant panda eats a cake made out of fruit.

Xiao Qi Ji celebrates his third birthday at the National Zoo.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Now, the pandas at Washington DC’s National Zoo are expected to be returned to China by the end of the year via FedEx.

Since her time in America, Mei Xiang has given birth to four surviving cubs with Tian Tian.

Zoo staff had difficulties getting the couple to mate despite the two liking each other.

“Whenever we put them together, when we thought it was the right time, they definitely liked each other,” Pierre Comizzoli, a research biologist at the National Zoo, told the Post. “They were kind of frolicking together, but nothing really was happening.”

Though the preference is to have the pandas naturally mate, zoo officials ended up artificially inseminating Mei Xiang with Tian Tian’s semen multiple times.

Their latest cub, Xiao Qi Ji, was born on August 21, 2020.

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