Excitement building as National Zoo keeps close tabs on possibly pregnant panda Mei Xiang

Mei Xiang (Courtesy of National Zoo)

This was no manic Monday at the National Zoo, quite the opposite in fact.

It all started when panda cub Bei Bei, almost 3 years old, emerged from his den to take a little walk.

“It’s so cute, it’s adorable,” said 9-year-old Emma Umakapar, visiting from New Jersey. “I feel like I want to have it as a pet.”

Bei Bei wandered about, seemingly oblivious to the click and whir of camera shutters, and the snap of smartphones.

He dipped his feet into a kiddie splash pool, climbed a tree, and then calmly returned to his den.

“I am a huge panda fan,” visitor Gina Koo said. “I am everything about pandas. My free time is spent watching panda videos, watching the panda cam here.”

Indeed, a ripple of excitement spread through panda fandom this day, with word that Bei Bei’s mom, Mei Xiang, might be expecting again.

Panda-monium, indeed.

“She’s been building a nest, she’s been sleeping a lot, food consumption is down,” said Laurie Thompson, the National Zoo’s assistant giant panda curator. “Doing a lot of grooming, body grooming, which is all things that they do when they’re getting close to giving birth.”

RELATED: Smithsonian National Zoo: Panda House closed for possible pregnancy of panda Mei Xiang

Zoo officials caution this could be a “pseudo-pregnancy,” with all the tell-tale signs of a mother-to-be, but without the real thing.

Mei Xiang is undergoing daily urine testing.

But it’s a twice-weekly ultrasound that will determine whether a little one is on the way.

“If they see an actual cub on the ultrasound, then we know she’s pregnant,” Thompson said. “We’ll eventually do a 24-hour watch on her and monitor her. Look for signs of impending birth, having contractions and things like that.”

The possible pregnancy would be the fourth delivery for Mei Xiang, who turns 20 on July 22.

Experts say giant pandas tend to reproduce only until their early 20s.

RELATED: Smithsonian Zoo experts monitor Giant panda Mei Xiang for possible pregnancy

Zoo visitors say a new panda cub in the nation’s capital would be irresistible.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Belina Knapp, from Rochester, New York. “One of my favorite animals. Who doesn’t love baby pandas?”

It wasn’t that long ago, that Bei Bei was the new kid on the block.

He was born on August 22, 2015, together with a twin that died just four days after their birth.

His tiny pink body was smaller than a finger.

At just a few ounces, he was 1/900ths of his mother’s weight.

“The babies are very small, they’re hairless,” Thompson said. “They’re blind when they come out, so they don’t do a lot of growing inside, it’s more when they’re finally born.”

Zoo officials say Mei Xiang may have conceived in March.

She’s being given plenty of rest and quiet time, and her section of the panda exhibit is closed off.

Now the waiting begins.

“It’s good to have more pandas around, so that the population enlarges,” Umakapar said.

The zoo says if Mei Xiang really is pregnant, the new cub could make an appearance by late July.

Panda fans are keeping their fingers crossed.

“I am really, really hopeful she would be pregnant this year,” Koo said. “That would be wonderful for her, because she’s such a great mama.”

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off