Mei Xiang Delivers Two Cubs — One Healthy, One Stillborn

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – The giant panda cub at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo appears to be in excellent health, zookeepers reported after a 10-minute physical exam Sunday morning.

The panda, born Friday afternoon, weighs 4.8 ounces, is pink with white fur and wriggled and squealed loudly when it was taken away from its mother, zoo officials said.

A second cub was stillborn Saturday night, but zookeepers were still overjoyed at the prospect of one healthy cub given that pandas are critically endangered and breeding them in captivity has proved difficult, especially in Washington.

The cub’s mother, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), gave birth to her only surviving cub, a male named Tai Shan, in 2005. Tai Shan enjoyed rock star status before he was returned to China in 2010. China owns the pandas at the National Zoo.

The new cub had a full stomach, and veterinarians reported that it has been digesting its food, zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said Sunday. Its heartbeat is steady and its lungs appear to be functioning properly.

Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub last year after several years of failed breeding, but the cub died after six days. Its lungs hadn’t fully developed and likely weren’t sending enough oxygen to its liver.

Following that disappointment, zookeepers changed their protocols for newborn pandas in consultation with Chinese breeders. The plan was for veterinarians to get their hands on the panda within 48 hours of its birth, and after two failed attempts on Saturday, panda keeper Marty Dearie was able to pry the cub away from Mei Xiang on Sunday morning.

“All the external features looked perfectly normal, so the cub has been described as vibrant, healthy and active,” Baker-Masson said. “My colleagues were very, very happy. This is joyful news.”

Mei Xiang was agitated when the cub was taken away from her, pacing and growling in her den, but the mother calmed down immediately after the cub was returned to her and she began cradling it, Baker-Masson said.

Veterinarians will try to examine the cub again Tuesday. Its eyes have yet to open, and its gender will not be known for two to three weeks. A DNA sample was collected to determine the cub’s paternity. Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated with sperm from Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), the male panda at the National Zoo, and a panda named Gao Gao at the San Diego Zoo.

Zoo officials aren’t sure what prevented the stillborn cub from developing, but it had abnormalities around its head and was missing its brain. Results from a necropsy won’t be known for several days.

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The zoo began performing a necropsy on the stillborn cub late Saturday that they hope will tell them why the cub stopped developing and died in-utero, she said.

Brandie Smith, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said she and others are “cautiously optimistic” about that cub’s health. She compared the planned exam to a race car pit stop, a fast and highly choreographed checkup before reuniting mom and cub.

The live cub is the 15-year-old panda’s third. Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub last year that died after just six days. Its lungs hadn’t fully developed and likely weren’t sending enough oxygen to its liver. Mei Xiang’s first cub, a male named Tai Shan, was born in 2005.

An early exam at the zoo is a change from last year, and staff members made several other changes in preparation for another cub. Mei Xiang’s den was altered to allow keepers to get closer to her, and the zoo invited a panda expert from China who specializes in newborns to help out. Two of the zoo’s panda keepers also recently spent time in China learning more about examining newborns.

Zookeepers made two attempts at examining the cub Saturday, but Mei Xiang was cradling the cub and officials were unable to take it for a closer examination, zoo spokeswoman Baker-Masson said.

Visitors to the zoo Saturday said they were excited about another panda cub. Melissa Schmechel, of Alexandria, Va., said she spent about 30 minutes Friday watching the zoo’s online panda camera after it was announced on Facebook and Twitter that Mei Xiang had gone into labor. She said she and her family had made plans to visit the zoo last year after the birth of Mei Xiang’s second cub and were sad when it died.

“Hopefully this will have a better outcome,” she said as her 11-year-old daughter, Laura, hugged a newly purchased stuffed panda.

WNEW’s Heather Curtis contributed to this report. Follow her and WNEW on Twitter.

(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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