Last night a giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington gave birth to a cub. The mother panda's chances of conceiving a cub had previously been estimated to be slim, so has created lots of excitement.
Mei Xiang (pronounced may-SHONG) gave birth to her cub last night at 10:46 p.m. say zoo officials. No one has fully seen the cub yet as mama has built a "substantial" nest inside of her den and is staying put.
Staff has, however, heard the cub, and everyone is anxiously waiting for a good glimpse. Mei Xiang has experienced five consecutive pregnancies since 2007 and the last birth she gave was in 2005 when Tai Shan, now at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, was born. Her chances of conceiving were estimated to be less than 10 percent.
She had been artificially inseminated twice in April with frozen sperm from Tian Tian, the male giant panda currently living at the National Zoo. The pair has had difficulty mating naturally.
“We are thrilled that Mei Xiang has had a successful pregnancy since the birth of her cub Tai Shan (tie-SHON) in 2005,” said Dennis Kelly, director at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, in a press release. “I’m cautiously optimistic as we haven’t seen the cub yet, but we know that Mei is a good mother. Like everyone else, I’m glued to the panda cam for my first glimpse of the cub!”
Screen shot from Smithsonian's live panda cam
Earlier this month Mei Xiang had shown "signs" of impending motherhood. Zoo staff watched her spending time cradling toys and body licking. Staff tried to get ultrasounds to confirm pregnancy but the female giant panda was not cooperative. A scanning conducted on Sept. 4 proved inconclusive, so last night's birth is a exciting surprise.
“I got a call ... a little after 10:45” from a senior curator saying “the behavior watcher just saw a birth,” said Don Moore, associate director for animal care sciences. “I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s not April Fool’s yet, so I’m going back to bed. ’ She said, ‘No, no, really. There’s been a panda. Congratulations'," reported the Washington Post.
“I was not believing it,” Moore said Monday. “We gave this a very low percentage. We were prepared for another disappointment.... We bucked the odds ... and we’ve got a baby on the ground.”
Zoo officials say veterinarians will examine Mei Xiang in a few weeks after mama and baby have some time to bond. The new mother is not expected to emerge from her den for at least a week.
"Mei Xiang is behaving exactly the same way she did when Tai Shan was born. She is cradling her cub closely , and she looks so tired, but every time she tries to lay down, the cub squawks and she sits right up and cradles the cub more closely," chief veterinarian Suzan Murray said. "She is the poster child for a perfect panda mom."
China owns all of the giant pandas in the U.S. and signs agreements to lease the pandas. The recently signed agreement between China and the U.S. stipulates Tian Tian and Mei Xiang will be in Washington through Dec. 2015. As part of all agreements, any babies born must be returned to China for breeding.
Being the panda population has decreased, breeding is actively being done to ensure the future of the breed and also to study the giant panda. Last winter philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, donated $4.5 million to fund giant panda research, as reported by Digital Journal.
The live panda cam can be accessed from the Smithsonian website. The new baby will be on view to the public in about four to five months, notes the Smithsonian.