A Somewhat Graphic and Wildly Frustrating Tale of Panda Sex


During the act of sexual intercourse and all the various steps leading up to it, it’s important to make sure that you and your partner(s) are on the same page, lest the experience go to shambles. This is a sentence I wish I could say to Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, panda residents of the National Zoo, who have missed the ferry to that lovely seaside resort known as Pound Town every year since their first meeting. The pair is marooned, separated from coital bliss by a gaping ocean of confusion and frustration (and also by a sex position known as “pancaking”).

Mei Xiang (a female panda) is totally into Tian Tian (who is male), but Tian Tian has no idea what’s going on. Mei Xiang is not known in panda circles for her subtlety. According to a recent article in the New Yorker, when Mei Xiang wants to do all the sex things, “her main vocalization changes from a throaty whinny to a high-pitched chip,” which is apparently Pandaish for “I’m here! I’m here! My time is coming!” She also masturbates and lumbers toward adults males “rear end first” (quick, ladies, file this away as a good meet-cute tip). Mei Xiang is in charge of her sexuality.

However, poor, bewildered Tian Tian doesn’t know what to do with himself — which is terrible news, since female pandas are only receptive to sex once a year and sometimes fertile for less than a day. As the article so eloquently puts it:

A key difficulty is that Mei Xiang places herself in what is called ‘pancake position’ — flat on her stomach, legs outstretched — and Tian Tian isn’t assertive enough to lift her off the ground. Rather than mounting from behind or pulling her toward his lap, he steps onto her back and stands there like a man who has just opened a large box from Ikea and has no idea what to do next.

Even the kooky antics of the zoo crew couldn’t fix this: they attempted to build a low wooden platform for Mei Xiang to pancake upon, so that Tian Tian could “hit the target,” but that didn’t work. The following year, they placed a plastic cylinder across the threshold between the pandas’ cages and successfully managed to make Mei Xing fall “with her rump in the air.” YES! Critical air-rump! But Tian Tian, that clueless lovable doofus, responded by lifting her off the cylinder, placing her on the ground, and resuming Confused Ikea position.

This is not the first case of panda incompatibility (incompandability? Sorry, I’ll show myself out). In 1996, the San Diego Zoo received a Shi Shi and Bai Yun, who are male and female, respectively. Bai Yun solicited Shi Shi, who remained aloof — so she responded by physically attacking him. A few years later, however, a new male arrived and had instant panda-chemistry with her. Since then they’ve had five natural cubs together, which is heartening news.

In a more sex-positive future, the tale of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will make a very compelling Pixar film.

“Why Do Pandas Have Such Difficulty Breeding in Zoos?” [The New Yorker]
Image via Getty.

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