Family Matters

Of Pandas and Pregnancy: Cub Born in Atlanta

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Are expectant pandas subject to ultrasounds in the bamboo thickets of China? Probably not.

Last month, for the first time, Zoo Atlanta managed to use ultrasound to detect a fetus growing inside one of its giant pandas. “The intestinal tract is very large and is full of a lot of bamboo that sometimes makes the sonogram a little bit difficult just finding the right location of the fetus,” veterinarian Sam Rivera told Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The ultrasound prophesy was borne out Wednesday, when giant black-and-white fur ball Lun Lun gave birth to her third cub. Panda births and giant pandas in general are a rarity; there are fewer than 300 in captivity and only about 1,600 in the wild. (More on Are You Fertile? Don’t Rely on a Drug-Store Fertility Test to Tell You)

Lun Lun’s pregnancy and subsequent birth — hers is the only giant panda baby born in the U.S. this year — has ignited curiosity about panda pregnancies among those who track that sort of thing. In fact, there’s a new panda pregnancy test out there that measures a protein present once pregnancy takes root. Whether it can be accurately relied upon is not yet known. In any case, panda pregnancies — like those of humans — are far from a sure thing, notes Barbara Durrant, director of the Reproductive Physiology Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in a blog post. Ultrasound and thermal imaging reveal that many giant panda mommas miscarry. The San Diego Zoo’s Bai Yun, for example, has gotten pregnant with twins three times yet delivered only one pink, hairless baby the size of a cell phone in each case, her body simply reabsorbing the second twin. (More on Who’s Linked In? 7% of Babies Boast their Own Email Address)

For now, Lun Lun and her cub are engaged in mother-baby bonding. The cub, conceived through artificial insemination, apparently couldn’t care less about its father. (The world won’t be privy to the cub’s sex for a week or so, when veterinarians will approach Lun Lun and her baby.) He won’t be introduced to the baby, which is apparently par for the course for pandas, who live solitary existences.

The zoo expects to exhibit the baby come springtime. Until then, get your fix via the uber-popular Panda Cam.

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Photos: Pregnant Belly Art

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