Sex “change” for Feng Yi’s baby

So the big news this past week – at least for me – is the sex of Feng Yi’s baby. In an earlier post, I’d happily announced that the baby is a girl. Well, I was wrong. Turns out baby is a boy, says an article in The Star headlined “Malaysian-bound panda has male cub”.

So how did I get it wrong? I guess I was a little hasty pushing for the confirmation when the baby was still too small for its sex to be correctly determined.

Feng Yi’s baby is not the first, and probably won’t be the last, to have its sex wrongly determined. There are at least two previous cases, both of them older pandas.

Three years ago in February 2010, Zoo Atlanta’s first-born giant panda cub, Mei Lan, was returned to Chengdu Panda Base. Seven months later, the base announced that Mei Lan, previously determined as female just 19 days after birth in September 2006, is actually a male panda.

Before Mei Lan’s case, there was Jin Zhu, who’d been sent to Kobe, Japan, with female panda Tan Tan in July 2000. “He” was four years old at the time, and discovered to be female when the vets attempted to extract sperm for artificial insemination. Jin Zhu was then returned to Wolong in exchange for another male panda, Kou Kou. She later gave birth to twins in August 2007.

All three pandas – Feng Yi’s cub, Mei Lan and Jin Zhu – had their sex determined soon after birth. Unlike Mei Lan and Jin Zhu, Feng Yi’s cub did not have to wait three to four years to find out that “she’s” really a “he”. I’m not saying that’s a good thing but maybe the thing to learn from this is not to rush the identification of a newborn giant panda cub’s sex, and definitely not to announce it too early!