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San Diego Zoo panda Bai Yun, age 20, gives birth!

The 20-year-old panda, Bai Yun, gave birth today at the San Diego Zoo, becoming the second-oldest panda to successfully deliver. High-tech imaging technology helped the panda team monitor the pregnancy every step of the way. Bai Yun‘s age and miscarriage last year prompted the additional monitoring. Bai Yun previously gave birth to five baby panda cubs!

The panda team depended heavily upon ultrasound, but also had a device that was developed for the military, specifically, a forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR). CNET News says:

According to the zoo’s director of reproductive physiology, Barbara Durrant, FLIR was used to give the panda staff a look at the heat signature inside Bai Yun’s belly, allowing them to examine a heat spectrum that generates the full range of colors between black and white. (Durrant said an in utero cub would put out a red heat signature.)

Durrant began using FLIR about a third to halfway through Bai Yun’s gestation period — which has ranged from between 101 and 134 days during her previous pregnancies. On about day 60 after Bai Yun’s breeding with a 20-year old male named Gao Gao — with whom she’s had four previous cubs — the team began to see promising signs with the tool. That’s a much earlier warning that there might be a new cub in Bai Yun’s future than what ultrasound is capable of.

But while that was a signal that something was happening, the embryo had yet to implant in the mother’s uterus, Durrant said. That’s not unusual, though: Pandas and Sun Bears are known to have their placentas start to grow prior to implantation. “A panda’s fertilized egg remains suspended until a trigger in the environment indicates it is time to implant,” the zoo release explained. “The trigger is still unknown to scientists. Giant pandas routinely delay the implantation of the fetus as long as four months.”

A new ultrasound on Friday had given the panda team new hope.

“Based on hormone testing, behavioral observations, and ultrasounds, the staff (began) their birth watch for a cub,” the zoo said in a release Friday. “Ultrasound video taken (July 26) clearly showed a panda fetus. The spine and a leg are visible and veterinarians were also able to detect the heartbeat.”

Now, the San Diego Zoo is surely celebrating the birth of the blind, 4-ounce pink-and-gray panda cub. The panda fans (they’re called “pandamaniacs”) will have to wait an unknown amount of time to see the cub, since Bai Yun and the baby will spend weeks hidden in her den. However, if they move in front of the “Panda Cam,” the public might catch a glimpse!

The new panda cub will have about three years at the San Diego Zoo. With the exception of a few pandas in a Mexican zoo, the entire species belongs to China, and China decides what happens to each individual panda once they turn three.

Until then, pandamaniacs rejoice! :-)

-Bill at

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