Update on Giant Panda Cub and Health of Mei Xiang

Photo by PoPville flickr user ashleykalena

From the National Zoo:

We’re still reeling from the loss of our giant panda cub, and we feel like the whole world is mourning with us. Our staff is anguished, which is to be expected. Every loss is hard but this one is especially devastating. Thank you so much for your outpouring of support. Your sentiments of support and understanding of our work helps tremendously when we have to get through tough times like this.

We still don’t know definitively what caused us to lose the giant panda cub yesterday, but we do have some more information since yesterday, especially from the necropsy (animal autopsy).

The giant panda cub appeared to be a female. She weighed a little less than 100 grams, which is about four ounces. There were no signs of trauma, external or internal, which means that she was not crushed—confirmation that Mei is a good mother. Her heart and lungs also looked good, which tells us that she did not suffocate. There was a little milk in the cub’s gastrointestinal tract, which tells us that she did successfully nurse. The only abnormalities the veterinarians have detected so far were some fluid in her abdomen and a slightly abnormal liver. They don’t know yet whether either of those things is significant, and they’re still investigating.

The panda team continues to monitor Mei Xiang, and will until she returns to her normal behavior. She appeared to sleep well last night. Watchers did notice her cradling an object, as she did before to the birth of the cub. We believe this is an expression of her natural mothering instinct.

Mei is moving around well this morning, and the panda team was able to weigh her. She weighs 217 pounds, which is less than her regular weight but perfectly normal for a mother who hasn’t eaten in a while. (Mei had not left her den in over a week.) She ate a little this morning and drank some water. The panda team was able to get a vaginal culture from her, which they will check for signs of anything unusual. Once the tests results come back and we’re certain of her health, we will give her access to her outside yard and it will be up to her whether she wants to go outside. We fully anticipate that she’ll return to her normal wonderful giant panda self in a relatively short amount of time. Once she is out of her den and acting normally, we will open the Panda House. We’ll keep the panda cam on so our supporters and fans can continue to watch from around the world.

Many of you have asked about the future of these two bears at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Today, our immediate concern is for Mei Xiang’s well-being, and to understand what happened to the cub. We spoke to our Chinese colleagues yesterday and will continue to work very closely with them over the next few months. However, no decisions will be made until we have thoroughly discussed all options.

We will learn from this tragedy and hope we will gain a better understanding of giant panda reproduction and cub health as a result. Our next steps will be to share the information we’ve learned with our Chinese colleagues. We’ll continue to try to figure out what caused the cub’s death through microscopic and histological evaluation. As we know more, we’ll share it with you.

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