The Respond to Mei Xiang's Life in America by CCRCGP

I know some folks have been following the news of Mei Xiang and the newborn cub in The Smithsonian’s National Zoo (SNZ) closely. Some netizens have been raising questions and doubt the management of SNZ. CCRCGP(the organization that lent Mei Xiang and Tian Tian) recently posted an article on WeChat that answered and explained the details of the SNZ management.

I found the article is educational and very meaningful to all panda fans. It helps the public to understand the Zoo’s management. So our team translated the article and share it here. I’m very thankful that Mei Xiang(and her family) received a great care in SNZ. And thanks to the CCRCGP step up to share such a good article to help the public to learn the conservation of the giant pandas. *Photo courtesy of the National Zoo.

Original Article Link in Chinese:


Dear Panda Fans,

Recently, many netizens are concerned about the giant panda “Mei Xiang" in the United States. The Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Pandas (CCRCGP) attaches great importance to the concerns of netizens. CCRCGP had an effective communication with The Smithsonian's National Zoo, according to the issue. The main concerns of netizens are as follows:

1. Feeding
Washington Zoo provides Mei Xiang with 60-100 pounds of yellow trough bamboo and arrow bamboo every day to meet Mei Xiang’s daily food needs. In addition, according to different seasons, complementary foods such as bamboo shoots, cooked sweet potatoes, whole grain biscuits, carrots, apples, pears and sugar cane are provided. Fruit popsicles (frozen food made from diluted apple juice or grape juice with sliced fruit inside) are provided to Mei Xiang as the bonus. All food is distributed to the exhibition areas (both indoor and outdoor) in batches by the keepers several times a day, generally 4-6 times a day. The zoo team regularly conducts physical examinations and assessments of Mei Xiang". By adding appropriate amounts of fruit and vegetable popsicles, apples, and sugar cane to the diet, it can help the keeper to train and guide the giant panda effectively.

Besides bamboo, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian always like to have the fruit popsicles for enrichment. Even if there are bamboos and other snacks next to them, whenever they see popsicles, they will rush straight to them, licking them happily. Due to the long time for licking, most of the juice melted without flowing into the mouth. However, it is a good way to encourage pandas to figure it out how to take the food (of popsicles) into mouths. Giant panda is inherently freeze-tolerant, and feels comfortable in the winter instead of summer. In China, we found most of wild pandas spend lots of time lying on the snow field. While, many domestic zoos usually provide captive pandas with some ice cubes in summer. It is an effective means of enrichment by providing Mei Xiang with appropriate fruit popsicles, and would not be harmful to Mei Xiang.

Sugar cane is one of the main snack of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. All the food are purchased by the nutrition team of the zoo and kept fresh, and then provided to the giant pandas and other animals by the keepers according to the ratio of nutrients. All the bamboo and supply for giant pandas are weighed by the keepers before feeding. Every keeper must write everything into the work log for every time, including the feeding time and the amount. The quality and quantity of food is guaranteed.

2. Behavior
a.Why Mei Xiang pacing indoors in the morning
The keeper cleans the playground (outdoor) at 7 o'clock every morning, and places food after cleaning. The giant panda knows that it is time to go out and have some fresh bamboo, and panda would be excited and pace indoors before go out, which is normal for pandas. In addition, the east US turned 1 hour back to the standard time as for winter time, which is one hour later than the previous daylight time. The time for keepers to open the gate will be delayed by one hour, and the giant panda will be more active indoors during this time.

2.Why does Mei Xiang make some noise?
There are three situations that Mei Xiang would make noise:
a. When she hears the birds
b. When she smells the food
c. When she talks with her child

3. Staffing
The playground for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the indoor exhibition area is about 250㎡, and the outdoor is about 2,700㎡. The Washington Zoo is equipped with 4 full-time keepers who are in charge of the daily life of "Mei Xiang" and "Tian Tian”. Two of the keepers know Mei Xiang and Tian Tian very well, since the first day that two pandas arrived in the National Zoo in 2000. The zoo has set up a professional animal nutrition team for giant pandas. The team makes meals according to the panda’s condition, including fruit popsicles and other food for enrichment.

In the wild, the panda would stay at a small and dark tree hole to take care of her child. This is how the wild pandas protect themselves and their newborn cubs. Therefore, the zoo learns from the wild pandas to make a delivery room for Mei Xiang like that. In fact, Mei Xiang has gave birth in such a space for twice before, and everything’s fine with Mei Xiang and her cubs.

4. Panda’s condition
Mei Xiang’s cub
At present, the cub of Mei Xiang is over 80 days old. The cub grows up normally, and can basically withstand changes in environmental temperature. Mei Xiang sometimes would leave the cub on the ground next to herself to have some bamboo. Her demand for food will return to normal or even higher than normal. For Mei Xiang, she has to ensure that her body is in good health, and is able to breeding her cub. Currently, Mei Xiang weighs 106 kilograms. Sometimes, she leaves the delivery room several times a day to eat and drink, and tries to take the cubs out of the delivery room to other rooms for a short time, and her body has recovered gradually.

There is a veterinary team in charge of pandas’ medical care and physical health, and vets regularly monitor and inspect the health of Mei Xiang and the cubs every week. The latest examination results indicated that Mei Xiang and her cubs both are normal.

5. Artificial insemination by anesthetizing the giant pandas
Artificial insemination is an important technical means to rescue endangered wild animals for assisted reproduction. Due to the strong selectivity of the natural mating of giant pandas, the male panda Tian Tian at the Washington Zoo has not been able to achieve successful natural mating with Mei Xiang. They all reproduce through artificial insemination. The national zoo helped the Mei Xiang and Tian Tian breed their offspring by using this way.

In order to ensure the safety of the giant panda and the staff, artificial insemination under general anesthesia of the giant panda is the safest and most effective method. Today, the technology of anesthesia and artificial insemination is very mature for pandas. Perform general anesthesia for pandas 1-2 times a year to carry out physical examination or insemination, which will not be harmful to pandas. Generally, the panda would be awake and return to normal life the next day after anesthesia.

6. Mei Xiang gave birth at age of 22
The 22-year-old Mei Xiang can estrus normally and give birth successfully, which proves that Mei Xiang is in good physical condition. It also shows that China and the United States have been very successful in the breeding and management of giant pandas. In order to take great care of Mei Xiang, CCRCGP has established a team of experts and the Washington Zoo team to pay close attention to the health of Mei Xiang and her cub, and jointly formulated a scientific breeding management plan, real-time online guidance of breeding work, and guarantee the health and welfare of Mei Xiang and the cub.

The Washington Zoo (The Smithsonian's National Zoo) is the only zoo managed by the U.S. federal government and one of the oldest zoos in the United States. The zoo and the Smithsonian Institute of Conservation Biology owns a group of influential scientists. For a long time, CCRCGP and Washington Zoo have maintained close contact, and the two sides have established a long-term exchange and cooperation mechanism. In the previous two births of Mei Xiang, CCRCGP has sent experts to go to Washington Zoo for cooperation. Due to the COVID-19 this year, CCRCGP provided online guidance and exchanges for Mei Xiang. During this period, Washington Zoo closely monitored and cared for the giant pandas in accordance with the requirements of CCRCGP and the opinions of the expert group. Mei Xiang and the cubs both are in good condition.
We will keep update the life of the giant panda "Mei Xiang" and her cubs. Thank you for your attention and support.

China Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center
11th Nov.,2020