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.
Zookeepers used nearly all methods, The Washington Post , including dimming lights, decreasing noise, and even placing Tian Tian on a fitness regimen to increase 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. Mei Xiang was asked to lie down on a piece of wood in order to prepare her for the time when Tian Tian would approach her. The Post said that Mei Xiang’s habit of lying on her back made it difficult for Tian Tian mate with Mei Xiang.
A National Zoo spokesperson failed to respond to an email sent over 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.
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 workers had difficulty getting the pair to mate, despite their liking for 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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