Week Old Giant Panda Cub Found Dead at National Zoo

Some of you might remember the cute giant panda cub born last week at the National Zoo in Washington. Sadly the cub was found dead Sunday morning after panda keepers heard sounds of distress from its mother, Mei Xiang.

The zoo said keepers heard “distressed vocalizations” and realized “this is not right, this is not good,” said zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson.

The staff realized they had stopped hearing the cub’s healthy squealing, and managed to retrieve the cub from the den with a set of cushioned grabbers. Zoo veterinarians tried CPR on the cub, but the animal could not be revived.

The cub was born almost exactly a week ago, at 10:46 p.m. last Sunday, to jubilation across the city.

It was the first giant panda cub born at the zoo since 2005.

But newborns are fragile.

In 2010, a newborn red panda cub died at the zoo. The cub was found lifeless the evening of July 7, and was rushed to the zoo’s veterinary hospital, where its death was confirmed. The male cub, born June 16, 2010, was the first red panda cub born at the zoo in 15 years.

Zookeepers had been watching the cub closely since its birth because of the extreme hot weather at the time and because its mother had been moving him about their outdoor exhibit instead of keeping him in a nest box, as would be expected, the zoo said.

The zoo said there is a 50 percent mortality rate for red panda cubs born in captivity. Pathologists performed a necropsy, but a definite cause of death was not immediately determined.

Much smaller than the black and white giant panda, red pandas resemble a cross between a fox and a raccoon.

In the 1980s, five giant panda cubs were born to the late panda parents, Ling Ling, a female, and Hsing Hsing, a male, who were given to the United States by China in 1972.

Ling-Ling had her first cub in 1983, but it died of pneumonia three hours later. She had another cub that was stillborn in 1984. In 1987, she had twins, which is not uncommon among giant pandas, experts say.

But one died immediately, and the other died of an infection four days later.

She produced yet another cub in 1989, but it died of pneumonia 23 hours after it was born.

Ling-Ling died in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing in 1999.

The cub had been a surprise at the zoo. Fourteen-year-old Mei Xiang had five failed pregnancies before giving birth.

Panda cubs are born about the size of a stick of butter and are delicate infants. They’re at risk for infections and so small that it’s not unheard of for panda moms to accidentally crush their young.

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