National Zoo Live-Tweets Artificial Panda Insemination

What may be a first for Twitter, the National Zoo offered tweet-by-tweet updates as Mei Xiang the giant panda underwent her eighth artificial insemination procedure.

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Sarah L. Voisin / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Mei Xiang, the female panda, plays in her yard.

These days, a girl can’t get impregnated without the whole world watching. Call it what you will — educational, panda porn, or simply TMI— the National Zoo’s live-tweet of the artificial insemination of 13-year-old giant panda Mei Xiang certainly caught Twitter’s attention.

After a failed attempt to inseminate Mei on April 22, zoologists at the Washington, D.C. institution tried for the second time on Monday, LiveScience.com reports. As the procedure began, Dave Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival, tweeted all the vivid details alongside plenty of photos, using the hashtag “#pandaAI.”

(PHOTOS: Bye-Bye, Panda Tai Shan)

According to Wildt’s tweets, it took a team of eight people to carry the 230-lb. female into the operating room full of 15 to 20  scientists, animal keepers and veterinarians. Soon after, zoologists readied Mei with general anesthesia and injected her with up to 800 million sperm, taken from a stockpile of 2005 samples donated by male giant panda Tian Tian. Kids, avert your eyes:

The procedure is not uncommon. Due to the average panda’s narrow two-to-three-day window for mating each year, it can be difficult for the animals to conceive naturally. Mei has undergone artificial insemination eight times so far, giving birth to baby Tai Shan in 2005. Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are on loan to the U.S. from China until 2015, under a Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement.

Scientists will track Mei’s hormones and conduct ultrasounds over the next few months, but it could be difficult to know if the insemination was successful. Until about a week before their due date, panda cubs are so small that they’re hard to identify with ultrasounds. Additionally, the occurrence of pseudo-births — situations where pandas show all of the sign of pregnancy sans fetus — can often be deceiving, as Live Science notes.

Still considered dangerously close to extinction, the numbers of giant pandas have been on the rebound in the last decade. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2004 census, 1,600 pandas roam free in parts of China, Vietnam and Burma, and another 300 live in zoos around the world. Scientists hope artificial insemination can help bolster those numbers:

As the “black-and-white rockstar” recovers from the procedure, the question remains:

LIST: TIME’s Top 10 Animal Stories of 2011

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