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Smithsonian National Zoo's Panda House Closed For Possible Pregnancy Of Mei Xiang Giant Panda

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Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute announced on Sunday that it is closing its giant panda habitat amid a possibility that one of its giant pandas is pregnant.

Closed For Possible Pregnancy Of Giant Panda Mei Xiang

The zoo said that starting June 24, it will close the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat to keep a quiet area around the den of the female giant panda Mei Xiang.

Zookeepers were not yet able to confirm if the animal is pregnant but Mei Xiang showed the behaviors associated with pregnancy and pseudopregnancy, such as building a nest in her den, sleeping more, having decreased appetite and reaction to loud noises. The outdoor habitats and the viewing areas will not be affected.

"Although Bei Bei and Tian Tian will have access to be outside until 2 p.m., due to the weather, the best time to see them will be outside from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m," the zoo said in a statement, which was released on Sunday.

Pseudopregnancy

Pandas like other several species can undergo the so-called pseudopregnancy, or false pregnancy, where they do things that they would if they were pregnant. Once pseudopregnancy ends, however, their hormone levels return to normal as well as their energy levels and behavior.

Female giant pandas have the same behavioral changes and hormonal changes if they are pregnant or pseudopregnant.

"Even if Mei Xiang is not pregnant, she will still build a nest, spend time body-licking, cradle objects and sleep often. Her levels of progesterone will rise and fall just as they would during a real pregnancy," the zoo said.

The only way to determine if a female panda is indeed pregnant is to detect that she has a developing fetus through an ultrasound.

Gestation And Pregnancy

Female giant pandas are only fertile for no more than three days in a year. The gestation length for giant pandas ranges from 90 to 180 days. The average pregnancy lasts 135 days. The variation in gestation period is due to the fertilized egg usually floating freely in the mother's uterus before it implants and starts to develop. The development continues until birth once the embryo is attached to the mother's uterine wall.

Pandas weigh between 3 and 5 ounces at birth. A newborn panda is also blind, very small and almost without any fur. Much of the animal's physical development happens after birth.

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