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World-Famous Mother of Five Could Have Sixth Cub in 2016

By Rachel Davis
The Animal Management and Veterinary Teams at Zoo Atlanta performed artificial insemination (AI) on Lun Lun, an 18-year-old female giant panda, in March. The teams opted to employ AI when hormonal and behavioral indicators suggested that Lun Lun had entered her species’ critically brief window of fertility.
Female giant pandas are fertile for just two to three days a year, and this short period dictates that AI be performed within hours of ovulation. Hormone analyses conducted by David Kersey, PhD, an expert in giant panda endocrinology from Western University of Health Sciences, indicated that Lun Lun ovulated on March 28. The zoo’s animal management and veterinary teams were assisted in the AI procedure by Copper Aitken-Palmer, DVM, chief veterinarian at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and an expert in giant panda reproductive physiology, and Dr. Kersey.
“Time is of the essence in giant panda breeding season. Giant panda females are known for their ephemeral period of fertility, and our pair, as in previous breeding seasons, did not demonstrate interest in mating this year,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, vice president of animal divisions at Zoo Atlanta. “Given Zoo Atlanta’s long-term investment in this endangered species, and given the success of our giant panda program thus far, we are hopeful that Lun Lun, who has proven herself to be an outstanding mother, will once again be able to bring a new addition to a population of animals that have become global icons for the conservation of wildlife and wild places.”
Lun Lun and male Yang Yang, also 18, have never mated naturally in their 17 years of association. All five of the pair’s offspring have been products of AI. The pair’s first three cubs, male Mei Lan, born in 2006; male Xi Lan, born in 2008; and female Po, born in 2010, now reside at China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Their fourth and fifth offspring, females Mei Lun and Mei Huan, born in 2013, reside at Zoo Atlanta. Mei Lun and Mei Huan are the only giant panda twins in the United States.
Giant pandas represent Zoo Atlanta’s most significant financial investment in conservation. Fewer than 1,900 giant pandas are estimated to remain in the wild in China’s Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces, and more than 1,200 of these live inside nature reserves. Support from Zoo Atlanta benefits wild giant pandas living on eight of these reserves. In 2012, Zoo Atlanta and partners Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Memphis Zoo, and San Diego Zoo Global received the International Conservation Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for their commitment to the species. The award recognized exceptional efforts toward giant panda regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild.
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