Saturday, August 15, 2020

Still Life with Robin: What This Pandemic Needs is a Baby Panda

Smlithsonian National Zoo

If you have been waking up every morning since April 1 thinking, wondering, worrying, “What’s next? What more could go wrong?”… might like a chance to focus on something that could just go right. And if it does, it will be a little bundle of pink fur about the size of a butterstick. But if it goes wrong, well, it will be just another one of those things that is in line with everything else that seems to be going down in the year 2020. You know I’m talking about the odds of the successful birth of a new panda cub. The National Zoo announced yesterday, they THINK our female panda, Mei Xiang, is pregnant. And if she is, she could give birth any time now. Tonight. Tomorrow. Maybe as late as Monday.    

Panda births are rare and fraught with problems. Pregnancy is difficult to achieve, hard to detect, and all too often, turns out badly. Poor Mei Xiang has given birth six times….but half the time, the cub died. She’s given us three healthy panda babies: Tai Shan, Bao Bao, and Bei Bei. And three others that didn’t live long enough to get a name -- one of them, Bei Bei’s twin. The NPR report below is a good summary of Mei Xiang’s maternal history – both the joy and the heartbreak:               

Why invest so much emotion in the reproductive life of a big, fuzzy Chinese bear? (Well, technically, not a bear, but we don’t always need to be zoologically correct). A few reasons: Mei Xiang is OUR panda. She’s been living in our neighborhood since 2000, when she and her life partner, Tian Tian, came over from China. We’ve followed her from day one. We’ve visited, and seen her on the panda cam, and celebrated birthdays with her, and so much more. She’s even donated her artwork for fundraising by Friends of the National Zoo. (I’ve got a Mei Xiang print hanging in my home office and I’m very proud to display it – it’s certainly better than anything I’ve ever painted!) Also, Mei Xiang isn’t young anymore. She’s 22 – and that’s well into middle age for a panda. On behalf of every mother who has had children later in life, we want her to succeed. It’s been almost a year since Bei Bei, her third cub, moved away to China, and she’s got to be feeling the empty nest.     

Well, I know I speak for millions of people who have been wrapped up in Mei Xiang’s reproductive life for a long time when I say, it will certainly be comforting FOR US, if she has a healthy cub.   

We’ll be glued to that panda cam……and wishing her all the luck in the world!  


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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