Hopes high at U.S. National Zoo after giant panda gives birth to cub

AFP-JIJI

A giant panda gave birth to a cub Friday at the U.S. National Zoo in Washington, raising hopes for a rare success after a series of false pregnancies, officials said.

“WE HAVE A CUB!!” the zoo announced on Twitter after female giant panda Mei Xiang’s unnamed baby was born at 5:32 p.m.

The zoo monitored to see whether a second cub might be born, as giant pandas often bear twins, but none was this time.

“Mei Xiang picked the cub up immediately and began cradling and caring for it,” the zoo said in a statement.

The very small, pink cub could be heard squealing.

“I’m glued to the new panda cams and thrilled to hear the squeals, which appear healthy, of our newborn cub,” zoo director Dennis Kelly said.

Veterinarians often have trouble confirming giant pandas’ pregnancies because they experience the same physiological stages when bearing cubs as when having pseudo-pregnancies.

The only definitive way to confirm a giant panda’s pregnancy is to detect a fetus on an ultrasound, but zoo officials said Mei Xiang stopped participating in the scans on Aug. 5.

In September, Mei Xiang gave birth to a female cub, but it died six days later from liver damage due to underdeveloped lungs. She had five consecutive false pregnancies from 2007 to 2012.

Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated twice in March after unsuccessful attempts to breed her naturally with the National Zoo’s male giant panda, Tian Tian.

During a first procedure, she was artificially inseminated with fresh semen collected from Tian Tian and frozen samples collected in 2003. She was also inseminated during a second procedure with Tian Tian’s 2003 frozen samples and frozen semen from the San Diego Zoo’s male giant panda, Gao Gao, collected that same year. The National Zoo said scientists will perform a paternity analysis in the coming weeks to determine which male panda sired the new cub.