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Panda cubs at Nat'l Zoo: 1 stillborn, 1 remains healthy

10:35 AM, Aug 27, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The Smithsonian's National Zoo officials say that they were unable to give the cub its second exam on Tuesday.

The cub's mother, Mei Xiang was more alert on Tuesday, and positioned her body so that zookeepers couldn't reach the cub. 

Officials say it's clear that she was holding tight to the cub and did not want to give it up. They will continue to monitor the cub on the Giant Panda Cam.

Mei Xiang gave birth to one healthy cub first and then a second cub at 7:29 Saturday night, but the cub was stillborn. The second cub had major abnormalities including no eyes, jaw, it was missing much of its head and had small brain matter.

The sight of a cub not moving terrified the scientists and veterinarians at the zoo because they thought it was the first cub.

"The next thing we notice is that there was a cub not moving on her lower abdomen and upper legs. At that point, I will say, there were several minutes of full blown panic because we did not see a birth," said Dr. Brandie Smith, Veterinarian.

But after they could hear the squeal of the first cub the team gave a collective sigh of relief. The first cub is healthy, the size of a stick of butter, pink, loud and lively, weighing in at 4.8 ounces.

Smith shared, "I know there are a lot of people who are very sad about the still birth of a second cub but I have to say those moments of panic and sorrow especially from last year, I have nothing but joy and happiness that we have one cub that is healthy and doing well."

Mei Xiang spent 17 minutes grooming her second cub. When she realized the cub had no signs of life, she stopped grooming it, and the cub fell to the ground.

"It may sound a little callous but ultimately her job is to make sure the cub she has, her live cub, survives," Smith said. 

After the events of last night the team was especially anxious to get a good look at the first surviving cub.

Marty Dearie, a giant Panda keeper, said, "When I finally reached in that last time, I was able to feel the head of the cub, slip my hand over it and pull it right out."

Dr. Suzanne Murray, Chief Veterinarian, told us, "The cub is doing well. It's robust, fully formed."

The team of scientists and veterinarians have been through many ups and downs. Mostly, disappointments. Last September, Mei Xiang gave birth to a female cub but it died a week later of liver damage.

Smith stated, "I do think the cub this year, when we talk among each other, we describe it as being very active and pink."

The veterinarians are confident that Mei Xiang is a good mother.

Dr. Brandie Smith said, "Even yesterday when she was tending to the still born cub she still had the first cub tucked away, taking care of it the entire time, never let it go."

Tian Tian will turn 16 this week. Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated so the father could either be Tian Tian or Gao Gao, a giant panda from San Diego.

"If the father is not Tian Tian we won't tell him. Next year this cub will grow up happy and healthy, that's our hope," Smith said. 

The first examination of the cub lasted four minutes and it was quickly returned to mama bear.

We won't know the cub's sex for a couple more weeks and they are doing a paternity test.

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