A batch of frozen semen from a panda in China arrived at the Smithsonian's National Zoo on Monday, a 7,000-mile journey zoo officials hope will help a female panda bare offspring once she's artificially inseminated.
Staff at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. could barely contain their enthusiasm when the semen, the zoo's first from China, arrived at the zoo's cryopreservation bank, CBS News reported.
"We've arrived. The cryo bank at the Zoo has more than 2,500 semen samples from more than 100 species. Many of them endangered. #InstaScience #PandaStory," the Smithsonian National Zoo wrote on Instagram.
The semen came from a giant panda named Hui Hui who lives at a conservation center in China's Sichuan province, CBS News reported. It will remain stored and chilled at the bank until a giant panda named Mei Xiang is ready to be inseminated when she goes into heat in a few weeks.
Wildlife experts have worked tirelessly to increase the panda population, currently at around 2,250, but they are extremely difficult to breed. The animals, native to China's bamboo forests, don't often reproduce on their own in the wild and in captivity it's worse.
Chinese zoos have resorted to showing the animals images of pandas copulating, or "panda porn," to get them to do the deed. A zoo in Thailand opted for a more romantic approach by throwing two pandas a wedding, CBS News reported.
Despite the push for natural conception, artificially inseminating the pandas has proven to be the best method at reviving one of the rarest animals on earth.
Mei Xiang has already had two cubs after being inseminated with semen from a male panda named Tian Tian at the same zoo. But Hui Hui was specifically chosen this time around because he is more of a genetic match, according to Jon Ballou of the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute, the station reported.
The zoo's panda experts helped Mei Xiang naturally detach from her latest cub, a 20-month-old named Bao Bao, on March 1. After that, it takes up 50 days for a female panda to go into heat.
"Now just waiting for breeding season!" the zoo said.