The Memphis Zoo has started a 24-hour watch on its female giant panda after seeing signs that she may be pregnant. The watch began on Thursday, May 3.
Ya Ya and LeLe, giant pandas, flew into Memphis amid great fanfare just a young couple in a new land.
Now four years later, LeLe is pacing like any nervous expectant father at his home, The Memphis Zoo.
Memphis Zoo staff started performing ultrasounds on Ya Ya three weeks ago. Even with ultrasound, it is difficult to confirm pregnancy. The cubs are very small and hard to detect. At birth, they weigh about 100 grams - or about the size of a stick of butter.
Ya Ya, the Memphis Zoo's 6-year-old female panda, has been more restless and irritable than usual. Plus, her appetite has decreased, and she has spent more time in seclusion.
Zoo staff monitor Ya Ya 24 hours a day. She is in her maternity den and has access to her dayroom, or on-exhibit area.
"We know she's getting close. She's starting to show some of the signs of being pregnant, such as decreased appetite wanting to be alone," says Curaror of Mammals at the Memphis Zoo, Matt Thompson. "However, we realize that it could still be a pseudopregnancy."
It is common for female giant pandas to display a period of psuedopregnancy or false pregnancy, but an actual pregnancy may be confirmed by an ultrasound near the end of the pregnancy term.
Even high tech ultrasounds don't show much because of the size of new born pandas. You can see a shaved square patch.
YaYa was artificially inseminated in January. Giant pandas usually give birth to twins. It would be quite a coups for the Memphis Zoo to have baby Pandas on exhibit.
If a cub is born, the mother and cub will be off exhibit in the maternity den for three to four months. The Memphis Zoo would work closely with China to plan the naming ceremony when the cub turns 100 days old.
Before the cub goes on exhibit, Ya Ya and her cub may be seen on the panda Web cam at memphiszoo.org and on live monitors in the Zoo's CHINA exhibit.
Zoo officials performed artificial insemination on 6-year-old Ya Ya in January, using sperm from 8-year-old male Le Le. It has been 110 days since the artificial insemination on Ya Ya, and, on average, a cub is born on day 133.
It is believed that there are only 1,600 pandas left in captivity and the wild. The animals are rare because of habitat destruction, fragmentation and poaching. Providing an additional challenge, pandas are hard to breed in captivity because of their brief estrus - occurring just once a year over a 72-hour period.