Giant panda’s artificial insemination: National Zoo tweets procedure

Dylan Stableford
The Sideshow

Every wonder what a giant panda's artificial insemination is like? If you followed the National Zoo's Twitter feed on Monday, you found out, in startlingly vivid detail, tweet by tweet.

The Washington, D.C., zoo turned control of its Twitter feed over to Dave Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival, who "live-tweeted" the insemination of Mei Xiang, a 13-year-old, 230-pound panda at the zoo. (The procedure actually took place on Sunday night, but the zoo still billed Wildt's updates as "live.")

Using the hashtag "#pandaAI," Wildt provided a steady stream of cheery tweets--including photos--as Mei was filled with thawed sperm.

"It's an exciting day!" Wildt wrote. "It only takes one!"

There are just 1,600 pandas left on earth, he added, which is why they are hoping to get Mei to produce a cub.

Here are a selection of tweets from the two-hour event:

Ready to go! #pandaAI

The microscope is set up, the pipettes are ready and the slides are prepped. A little more to do until we'll bring in Mei Xiang. #pandaAI

Here's Mei right now. Volunteers are watching her from our research station as we prepare. #pandaAI

There are 15-20 of the Zoo's scientists, animal keepers and vets in the room, waiting. Lots of equipment. #pandaAI

Last night we couldn't get quality sample from Tian, so we used a frozen sample from 2005, the year Tai Shan was born! #pandaAI

Today we're using the same process using the "vintage" sperm. #pandaAI

Now we have to get Mei ready. #pandaAI

Mei is wearing a blue mask to get anesthesia. The vets are monitoring her heart rate and blood pressure, too. #pandaAI

Dr. Desheng and Dr. Comizzoli are inserting a thin tube about 12 inches into Mei filled with sperm. #pandaAI

They use .25 mL straws of sperm. That's a total of 1.5 mL of sperm, or up to 800 million motile sperm in the sample! #pandaAI

Sperm frozen in 2005 from Tian Tian, our male giant panda, had good motility (lots of swimming). #pandaAI

One of our repro experts, Dr. Aiken-Palmer holds the next vial of 100,000 million sperm. "It only takes one!"

They shifted the table and are positioning Mei's head lower than her pelvis. Gravity's important here. #pandaAI

Yesterday Mei and Tian Tian, our male panda, got to spend some time together—this is the only time of year they are put together. #pandaAI

When Mei and Tian are feeling the love, they bleat and chirp. This is one of the behavioral signals keepers track for breeding. #pandaAI

We're keeping Mei elevated for 10 minutes. We used 10 straws of sperm. #pandaAI

Female giant pandas can only breed during a short 24-72 hour window each year. #pandaAI

We've been monitoring Mei's hormones and watching the panda behavior for months now to determine the best time for an AI. #pandaAI

When I got the phone call that now's the time, I dropped everything to get to the Zoo, just like everyone else here! #pandaAI

This is the 8th year we've artificially inseminated Mei Xiang. #pandaAI

It's done! The keepers, vets and researchers had to move fast to carry her! But here they are! #pandaAI

Mei did great and there's a sense of celebration and accomplishment in the air here! #pandaAI

Pandas experience delayed implantation, which means the embryo doesn't latch onto the uterine wall immediately. #pandaAI

Our vets will do ultrasounds, but because the cub would be so small, we wouldn't necessarily see it until one week before birth. #pandaAI

We'll know later this summer whether she's pregnant or if she experiences a pseudo, or fake, pregnancy. #pandaAI

And here's our slightly groggy, black-and-white rock star in recovery! #pandaAI

"We hope you learned something," Wildt tweeted following the procedure.

Trust us, doc, we did.

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