National Zoo's Panda Baby Thriving

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National Zoo’s Panda Baby Thriving
AFP/Discovery News

July 11, 2005 — Mei Xiang, a giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and her new cub continue to do well on Monday, after the panda gave birth on Saturday in a long-anticipated captive breeding, zoo officials said.

“Mei Xiang and her cub continue to bond and seem to be doing well. Staff and volunteers heard noises from the cub that suggest it is nursing, but it’s hard to be sure,” the zoo’s Web site said on Monday.

“Mei seems to be gaining confidence in her maternal role. She is shifting positions with more ease and responding to the cub’s noises. Her strong, clawed paws are being used to gently pick up and cradle her fragile cub,” the site’s update said.

The cub, Mei Xiang’s first, was born at 3:41 a.m. ET on Saturday. After the birth, the zoo reported that the mother panda picked up her cub within two minutes of its birth and has since shown signs of being a “terrific mother,” cuddling and cradling it.

The sex of the cub is as yet unknown, since it is difficult to tell the sex of baby pandas, and zoo veterinarian are leaving mother and baby alone for now.

The zoo said vets would “intervene only if the cub shows signs of distress or (if) Mei begins to ignore it. At present, though, all indications are that the cub is healthy and mother is attentive. This hands-off approach means we won’t know the weight or sex of the cub for some time.”

Six-year-old Mei Xiang, whose name means “Beautiful Fragrance,” was artificially inseminated in March with sperm from Tian Tian, her zoo companion, aged seven.

The giant pandas, one of the world’s most endangered mammals, are a major attraction at the sprawling zoo in the U.S. capital.

Giant pandas have a relatively low fertility rate, with over 60 percent of male pandas in captivity lacking sexual drive and just 10 percent being capable of natural mating.

Only 30 percent of female pandas give birth.

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