Saturday, August 22, 2020

The New Yorker

The Miracle of Breeding a Panda Cub During a Pandemic
By Robin Wright

In a year of tortured politics, nationwide protests, and a highly contagious pandemic, our troubled republic finally has something to celebrate. Washington, D.C., has a panda cub. Mei Xiang, a mellow matriarch who weighs in at two hundred and thirty pounds, gave birth to a tiny, hairless pink cub weighing just ounces, at 6:35 p.m. Friday, at the National Zoo. The wee panda, the size of a butter stick, introduced itself with a howling squawk. The birth defied the zoological odds—Mei’s advanced age, the life-long failure of her partner panda, Tian Tian, to figure out how to mate, the zoo’s inability to extract fresh sperm from him fast, and, especially, the many complications from the covid-19 pandemic. A week after the pandemic forced the National Zoo to close, on March 14th, Mei began to ovulate. Most of the zoo’s staff were ordered to stay at home or reduce hours. In a race against time, a small team of reproduction specialists—all willing to risk the rules of social distancing—thawed eight hundred million sperm to artificially inseminate Mei, knowing that it probably wouldn’t work. “It’s overcoming the odds, and if there was ever a need for a sense of overcoming the odds, it’s now,” Brandie Smith, the zoo’s deputy director, told me. “People need this. It’s the story of hope, and the story of success, and the story of joy.” Read on....

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