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Pandas’ amorous day unsuccessful, zoo says

WASHINGTON – While most of Washington was focused on the upcoming presidential inauguration, the capital’s famous giant pandas were attempting to create a little news of their own.

The National Zoo released a statement Sunday saying that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian had tried to mate “throughout the day Thursday,” apparently without success.

“Because competent mating did not occur,” the zoo statement said, veterinarians anesthetized both pandas on Saturday, collected semen from Tian Tian and inserted it into Mei Xiang’s uterus.

Giant pandas, which are endangered in the wild, mate for only one or two days a year, and scientists believe there is only one day each year when a female panda is able to conceive.

So when zoo staff saw the pandas emit mating calls and display other pre-mating behavior Jan. 9, they began monitoring the hormone levels in Mei Xiang’s urine. When the levels suggested that she had ovulated, the vets knew it was time to act.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian produced one cub, Tai Shan, through artificial insemination in 2005.

But attempts to impregnate Mei Xiang failed in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.

Scientists say they have no way to know whether an artificial insemination was successful until the end of the gestation period, which can last from 90 to 185 days.