Zoo hopeful for another panda pregnancy after miscarriage

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - Although the first panda pregnancy at the Memphis Zoo ended in a miscarriage, zoo officials say they're still hopeful that Ya Ya will be a mother one day.

Since the miscarriage, the 6-year-old female panda has returned to her normal activities and demeanor, said Matt Thompson, curator of mammals.

She sits propped on a log, legs splayed, chewing on a piece of bamboo like celery, leaving strips of bark and leaves on her belly like crumbs.

"We were concerned that she might be upset about not having her cub, but she went back to being just a regular panda," he said.

Ya Ya was artificially inseminated in January and the zoo announced in May that she was pregnant after an ultrasound showed a tiny bubble in her belly.

But her hormone levels dropped and she had a miscarriage. Still, zoo officials said the first pregnancy for Ya Ya and the zoo was just the first try.

"We saw a fetal pole. We saw the embryonic sack. No other zoo has been able to see that as far out in a panda pregnancy as we did. That was groundbreaking," Thompson said.

Ya Ya has also been trained to lie still for ultrasounds, give urine samples and let keepers draw blood from her arm.

In Atlanta, crowds flock to see Mei Lan, a new female cub. The zoo tried five times before Lun Lun, a 9-year-old panda, gave birth.

"My advice to Memphis is to be patient," said Dennis Kelly, Zoo Atlanta president and chief executive officer. "We didn't know she was really pregnant until her water broke."

The anticipation for a panda pregnancy can be hard, other zoo officials said.

"We went through year after year with the anticipation building on whether Lun Lun was pregnant," said Stephanie Saunders, a docent at Zoo Atlanta. "We had psychics come visit. We were starting to give up hope that we would ever have a cub, but then it happened."

Ya Ya is just entering her prime breeding years, Thompson said. Information that the zoo learned during the first pregnancy, along with information from other zoos, will help them be better prepared next year, he said.

The Memphis Zoo spent $16 million for the Chinese exhibit, which includes a showcase area for the pandas.

Thompson said the zoo spends $1.3 million each year on pandas, including a $1 million donation each year to China for its panda conservation program.

"We've banked invaluable information about the reproductive process," Thompson said. "We never got into this thinking the pandas would make us money.

This is about conservation and helping pandas to survive. We want to be a part of that."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)