May 24, 2007

Panda at Memphis Zoo Is Pregnant

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A panda at the Memphis Zoo is definitely pregnant, officials there said Wednesday. Ya Ya, a giant panda, was artificially inseminated in January after she and a male companion failed at mating the old-fashioned way.

Since then, the zoo has closely monitored her as the potential due date drew near for the 6-year-old panda.

"I'm excited, but I'm also cautious because we have a long way to go before the birth," said Chuck Brady, the zoo's president.

Ya Ya is expected to give birth in the next 30 to 45 days, and the zoo will do weekly ultrasounds to monitor the health and growth of the fetus, zoo spokeswoman Julie Dodson said.

Zoo staff members now monitor Ya Ya 24 hours a day. She is in her maternity den and has access to a day room where zoo visitors can see her.

As the due date approaches, Ya Ya will likely settle into a tree in her maternity den that is a replica of where a giant panda would give birth in the wild, zoo officials say.

Panda pregnancies cannot be confirmed until shortly before the delivery date. Gestation lasts about 133 days.

An ultrasound showed that Ya Ya's fetus recently began growing, The Commercial Appeal newspaper reported. After the insemination, she was in a period called a "diapause" in which the fertilized egg doesn't mature in the uterus.

Zoo officials have been watching Ya Ya round the clock this month for behavioral changes such as pacing, agitation and becoming more secluded.

"We've just entered into the growth phase," Brady said. "This is a critical stage, and we'll have to monitor Ya Ya carefully."

She and a male panda, 8-year-old Le Le, are on loan to the zoo from China. Ya Ya and the cub will be off exhibit for about three months, zoo officials say.

The panda exhibit at the zoo closed for a few days in January to give Ya Ya and Le Le some privacy to mate, but that was not successful.

Pandas are notoriously poor breeders - one reason their species is endangered - and females have only three days a year in which they can conceive.

Only three other U.S. zoos - those in San Diego, Washington and Atlanta - have giant pandas. The most recent panda cub born in the U.S. was Mei Lan in Atlanta last September.


Memphis Zoo: