Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Features

September 18, 2012

With new panda cub, Mei Xiang comes to her inept mate's rescue

(Continued)

"He has proved to be a clueless breeder with flawed technique. Plus, his genes are not that valuable because his father has sired dozens of offspring in the captive population," Ballou said.

It sounds like the story of many a fumbling scion, unable to live up to a father's grand legacy and shriveling in his shadow, dabbling in hobbies such as bamboo and afternoon naps while everyone looks to his beautiful wife with brows raised, question marks in their eyes.

It's a pretty brutal business out there in zoo land, almost as merciless as the English court.

"Genetically, it would be best if we got a whole new pair," Ballou told The Post in April. "If she's not going to breed, then she's genetically dead," he said.

Harsh.

The truth is, these adorable animals were simply not meant to survive.

They are fertile only one or two days a year and the males in captivity have shown little interest in mating.

Officials at other zoos have admitted using Viagra and "panda porn," with little success. Last year, the folks at the National Zoo had Tian Tian do a regimen of leg-strengthening exercises, to help his stamina and technique. A personal sex trainer.

How sad.

If the pandas get lucky and produce a cub, they aren't home-free. The cubs are so small that it's about the equivalent of a human giving birth to a tree frog. Who can take care of that? The babies can be crushed or suffocated by their huge moms. Washington's original pair of pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, produced five cubs during their years at the zoo, but none of their offspring survived beyond a few days.

National Zoo officials inseminated Mei Xiang this year and waited, frustrated by inconclusive ultrasounds. It's not like she's uncooperative: Mei Xiang is so used to this obsession of ours that she rolls over whenever she sees the ultrasound and fertility gear, poor thing.

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