The panda cub known as Bei Bei will soon delight Washington Zoo visitors, it has been announced on the facility’s official Twitter page on Tuesday, November 17.
The giant panda bear, which is currently three months old, is scheduled to make its debut at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park on January 16, according to representatives of the popular tourist spot, which charges no admission fees.
Born on August 22, Bei Bei has already learnt to crawl, and has even taken its first few steps. While at birth it weighed a measly 5 ounces (140 grams), now its total weight is at approximately 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms).
Therefore, as zoo officials have revealed, the adorable bear cub is already larger than his siblings had been when they were at the same age.
Bei Bei is the offspring of Mei Xiang, one of the most beloved panda bears among zoo visitors. He had actually been born alongside another cub, who unfortunately died shortly afterwards.
Bei Bei’s father is Tian Tian, a 275-pound panda bear who was born in 1997 at the Conservation and Research Center for Giant Panda, in Sichuan Province, China.
Tian Tian has actually sired a few other panda cubs as well, such as Tai Shan, born on July 8, 2005, and Bao Bao, born on August 23, 2013. However, on this occasion, and on prior ones as well, this has only been possible through artificial insemination.
While attempts have been made to ensure that Mei Xang and Tian Tian would mate naturally, that has never been achieved, given that they were both born in captivity, and experienced difficulty when they tried to reproduce.
Despite conservation efforts, giant panda bears are currently on the verge of extinction. Nowadays, just around 1,600 survive in the wilderness, while about 300 are being held in captivity.
Overall, breeding giant pandas in confined spaces is an extremely difficult process, for several reasons. For example, the “fertile window” of the female pandas’ reproductive (oestrus) cycle lasts around 2 or 3 days, and occurs just once a year, typically during spring.
According to Pierre Comizzoli, research scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, in captivity this timeframe is reduced to about 36 to 40 hours, and given that male pandas seldom perform as expected, artificial insemination is usually preferred so as to not let this incredibly short period pass by.
Moreover, even after these fertility procedures, it’s difficult to assess if the female giant panda is indeed pregnant, since its progesterone levels don’t change, and there are frequent instances of pseudo-pregnancy behavior such as nesting, eating less and sleeping more.
Pregnancy duration is also strangely variable, ranging from 3 to 6 months, and fetuses are incredibly difficult to identify in ultrasounds, given the fact that they are so tiny in comparison with their mothers’ abdomens.
In addition, newborn panda cubs are highly vulnerable in the first two weeks, requiring constant feeding and care, and many fail to survive into adulthood.
This is why Bei Bei’s addition to the National Zoo is so important and highly anticipated. While the official debut will take place on January 16, it has been announced that previews for Zoo members will be held between January 8 and January 15.
Image Source: Twitter