Birds do it.
Bees do it.
But giant pandas may need a little help.
So, Saturday morning, a team of scientists and veterinarians artificially inseminated the Smithsonian National Zoo's female giant panda Mei Xiang, after determining that she and her male consort Tian Tian had "no competent breeding" overnight, according to a statement from the National Zoo.
Time was of the essence after scientists detected an increase in Mei Xiang's urinary estrogens on Tuesday. That, combined with the panda's recent behavior, convinced the scientists she was ready to breed.
"We are hopeful that our breeding efforts will be successful this year, and we're encouraged by all the behaviors and hormonal data we've seen so far," said Dave Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. "We have an extremely small window of opportunity to perform the procedures, which is why we monitor behavior and hormones so closely."
Mei Xiang was put under general anesthesia for the artificial insemination and was expected to undergo a second procedure later Saturday. During the artificial insemination, the team of scientists and veterinarians used a combination of fresh semen collected from Tian Tian early this morning and frozen semen collected from Tian Tian in 2003, the zoo said.
The pandas have one surviving cub, Tai Shan, who was born July 9, 2005, and now lives in China.
Mei Xiang gave birth to a female cub on Sept. 16, 2012. But she died one week later due to lung and liver damage.
Both cubs were born as the results of artificial inseminations.
The zoo said it will provide further updates on both Facebook and Twitter, with the hashtag #Panda AI.