Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Features

September 22, 2012

With new panda cub, Mei Xiang comes to her inept mate's rescue

This is such an old story.

Long before Mei Xiang came under intense pressure to give us a precious panda cub, there was Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette and each of the 14 wives of Mutlaq Sulaiman, a 53-year-old Saudi who discards women like used plastic bags when they don't produce an heir.

It's always the same in these high-profile matchups. Everyone's looking at the female, throwing around words like "barren," when the problem is at the Y-chromosome end of the process.

And in the world of arranged breeding, international diplomacy and big dollars that is global zoo politics today, the Panda Situation in the nation's capital was reaching crisis level.

U.S. officials made no secret about plans to deport the furry behinds of Washington's royal panda couple because of their seeming infertility — they are like the Redskins that way, with a few highs, lots of lows and a bizarrely loyal fan base. But Mei Xiang proved her doubters wrong.

Zoo officials weren't even sure she was pregnant, but on Sunday night, with a slight exertion caught on video, Mei Xiang produced her second cub.

Saved!

Seriously, Mei Xiang's inept partner, Tian Tian, had better get her "push present" — what some women expect to receive in the hospital upon delivery (diamonds preferred, thank you) — from Tiffany this time around. He was this close to a ticket back to the homeland.

It's been pretty obvious to the zoo staff that Pop wasn't up to the job for a while now. This is the second cub for both and also the second one that is the the product of artificial insemination. Tai Shan, a.k.a. Butterstick, was first, in 2005 .

In a Washington Post interview this spring, zoo research scientist Jon Ballou talked about the panda couple's dry spell, and 14-year-old Tian Tian's part in it.

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