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National Zoo on panda pregnancy watch

Mei Xiang, with her cub Tai Shan, five months after his birth in summer 2005. Mei Xiang, with her cub Tai Shan, five months after his birth in summer 2005.
Washington Post / May 4, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Volunteers during the weekend began around-the-clock monitoring of the National Zoo's giant female panda after scientists noticed hormonal and behavioral changes that might indicate pregnancy.

Officials cautioned that Mei Xiang might be experiencing a false pregnancy, as she has in years past.

But several behaviors are raising hopes. Mei Xiang is "denning," meaning that she is bringing bamboo to a place that's dark and quiet. Also, she is eating less and cradling objects, including food.

"Any [other] time I've seen Mei with a pear, she's eating it," said Pamela Baker-Masson, a zoo spokeswoman.

Starting Saturday night, volunteers began monitoring Mei Xiang on the zoo's pandacam. If she is pregnant, she will probably have the baby within three weeks.

Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated Jan. 17 after scientists found she was in heat.