Smithsonian National Zoo Giant Panda Artificially Inseminated, Is She Expecting?

bei bei national zoo bby
Giant panda Bei Bei plays in his enclosure at Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo on August 24, 2016. Bei Bei's mom could be expecting again. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The Smithsonian's National Zoo, home to the favorite animals of many Americans, made a big announcement Friday. One of its giant pandas could be pregnant in the not-too-distant future.

The zoo said that an artificial insemination procedure was done Thursday night on Mei Xiang, the giant panda.

In captivity, pandas can be closely monitored and inseminated during the extremely short time period when they're ovulating, or able to become pregnant. That period usually lasts about a day at minimum and three at most, and only once a year. The mating season usually happens between March and May of each year, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (previously known as the World Wildlife Fund).

The panda team at the zoo knew it was the right time to conduct the insemination because Mei Xiang had been exhibiting behavior that suggested she was close to entering her breeding season. That behavior included restlessness, wandering around her pen more than usual, and playing in her water features. Also, the day before the insemination, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, a male panda, were vocalizing to each other more.

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Tian Tian (left) and Mei Xiang (right) look at each other through the "howdy" window that separates their yards, on March 28. Betsy Herrelko/Smithsonian's National Zoo

Tests confirmed that Mei Xiang had elevated levels of estrogen in her system and that they peaked on Wednesday, making it the best time to attempt impregnation, said the zoo. The two already have one panda cub together called Bei Bei, who was an instant sensation after he was born in August 2015.

It will be several months until the zoo is able to determine whether or not the insemination was successful. This, said the zoo, is partly due to the fact that "there is no way to determine if a female is pregnant by hormone analysis and behavior alone." The staff will have to rely on ultrasounds performed over the coming months to see if Mei Xiang is pregnant.

Panda cams are set up for anyone who wants to view the animals in their enclosures at the zoo. There are also two panda cams online, both available here, for panda fans. All three of the pandas can be seen throughout the day on one cam or the other.

Some fans responded to the news of Mei Xiang's insemination on social media. They were excited about the idea of a new baby panda coming. "Very happy and excited to hear the news," said one user, while another said, "Here's hoping for success!"

The National Smithsonian Zoo did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.