Sunday, April 25, 2010

Panda Watch 2010

I've lived in D.C. or its environs for a little more than two and a half years now. In that time I've picked up some behaviors that I blame on living here. Things like:
  • Shooting murderous looks at anyone who stands on the left on an escalator. Any escalator, anywhere
  • Bitching about tourists. All. The. Time.
  • Developing strong feelings on Virginia suburbs and Maryland.
  • Being able to identify "Hill" people and knowing what a vague "I work for the government" really means. (I.e. spy!)
But there is one behavior I've largely avoided. One thing that just never interested me as much as it seemed to interest many others around me. And that thing? Pandamania.

Yes, I made my trek to the National Zoo to see our bears. Yes, I was sad when they sent Butterstick back to China. (But more so because of my feelings on China than the bear.) But they're just bears. They're endangered, I get that. And it is freaking adorable when just a baby or when one sneezes. But overall I can kind of just take them or leave them.

But then spring came and with spring a ritual that seems ridiculous to someone inside the beltway, so I can only imagine how ridiculous it must seem to those outside. And the ritual? Panda pregnancy watch. Yes, you read that correctly. The capital of this great nation. The center of American government. The home of leaders in media, business, and politics. The town consumed with the desire to have a knocked up panda in its borders. 

Maybe this is what they're really thinking of when they say Washington is broke.  Because after artificially inseminating Mei Xiang eight times, the poor thing has only given birth to one panda baby. (The aforementioned Butterstick, now living out its days in China.) Meaning that each spring the metro area reads about her hormone levels and behavioral changes, and then gets locked down in "pregnancy watch" mode. Will it be another Butterstick? Or is it just another broken dream, another dashed hope, another pseudo pregnancy. (Which as far as I can tell, happens often. Hormone levels and behaviors say one thing, but the lack of baby panda goodness distinctly says another.)

I became one of those who broke down on Saturday and watched part of the Panda Cam live feed on the Zoo website. All I saw was Mei Xiang kicked back, gnawing on some bamboo, probably guffawing in her head at how stupid humans are.

Then it occurred to me that I didn't even know what to be watching for. Should I have been looking for "What to Expect When You're Expecting" on her nightstand? Was I waiting for her to stand up, grab her back, and exclaim, "My water just broke!"?  Or was I possibly going to see a live panda birth? Because, well, ewwww, I don't want to see that! 

But let's focus on the practicality of this whole endeavor for a minute. Surely there must be a better way to tell if she's pregnant. If we can inseminate a bear and hook up a video camera to watch its every move, can we not invent a home pregnancy test for the thing? Maybe it's not so much the technology we're lacking, but someone willing to assist the bear in peeing on a stick. Not to mention holding its hand while they wait with bated breath to see a little pink line. (Or two lines? I don't actually know what one sees.)
However, I guess there's something nice about doing it the old-fashioned way. Or at least as old-fashioned as you can get when you throw in frozen panda sperm and a web cam. I suppose it's as close as I'll get to being a 1950s husband pacing and smoking in the hospital waiting room, oblivious as to what's to come.

I just hope that somewhere out there in this great universe of ours, there is a planet of pandas, glued to a 24-hour feed of some human, taking bets on whether or not she will give birth. It only seems fair.

(Screen capture from the Panda Cam. If I had the nosy eyes of a city on me all weekend, I'd be tired to. )

But after all this cynicism and sarcasm, looking at that bear curled up, sleeping contentedly,  I can't help but hope she gets a new little one. They took her other one away, after all, and I have to admit, they are just freaking adorable.

1 comment:

  1. I keep up with the Pandas in SanDiego zoo. they have a Panda cam for newborns, its amazing but of course you know I LOVE any and all animals....