Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's First Week

July 15: Mei Xiang Puts the Cub Down

glimpse of cub
A glimpse of the tiny cub as seen on the web cam on July 10.
Last night, Mei Xiang put the cub down, left the den, and got a drink of water in a nearby room. She returned to the den and picked up the cub three minutes later. This is the first time she has left her cub, who looks larger than it was at birth and has a round belly. Earlier in the evening she placed the cub onto hay and twice shifted positions. She was heard vocalizing between Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon.

Mei has not eaten since before she gave birth on July 9. This is quite normal for panda mothers during their cubs' first days and weeks. Fresh bamboo is available to her in the indoor exhibit where she drank.

Keepers plan to increase their presence around the den and determine Mei's pattern for leaving the cub so they can be prepared for the cub's first examination.

July 14: Update on Tian Tian

Tian Tian, the cub's father, remains on exhibit in his outdoor yards 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, weather permitting. We are unable to put Tian on the web cam because we need both monitors to observe Mei Xiang. Tian has been doing fine since his separation from Mei. As Mei and Tian have matured, they have gradually been spending more time away from each other when given the choice. We have not noticed any changes in his behavior since the separation. Male pandas are not involved in the care of their cubs. We do not plan to reintroduce Tian to Mei until the cub is weaned at 18 months to two years of age. In the meantime, Tian will get plenty of attention and enrichment opportunities from his keepers.

July 13: Cub Continues to Thrive

At five days of age, our panda cub continues to thrive and Mei is being a very attentive mother. She is licking the cub, holding it in the perfect position for nursing—close to her chest, and instantly responding to the cub’s loud squeals demanding attention.

While staff and volunteer watchers easily hear the cub’s squeals, seeing the tiny pink cub is another matter—they only get a glimpse when Mei changes position. On the day of its birth, the cub was squealing a lot—every time Mei moved. Now, it is squealing only very infrequently.

Mei is devoting all of her time to taking care of her cub and resting or sleeping. She has not moved out of her den or taken the time to eat or drink, and may not for up to a few weeks. This is perfectly normal behavior for a new giant panda mother.

Panda cubs—born blind, hairless, and helpless—are completely dependent on their mother’s care. In the wild, mother and cub would be holed up in a small tree or cave den at this time, and mom wouldn’t leave to find food or water. Panda babies are unable to regulate their body temperature, so, in addition to all of the other care she provides, a mother’s constant warm contact with the cub is essential.

July 10: All Is Well

Mei Xiang and her cub continue to bond and seem to be doing well. Staff and volunteers heard noises from the cub that suggest it is nursing, but it's hard to be sure. Mei seems to be gaining confidence in her maternal role. She is shifting positions with more ease and responding to the cub's noises. Her strong, clawed paws are being used to gently pick up and cradle her fragile cub.

The outdoor portion of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat is open so visitors can see Tian Tian, weather permitting. The indoor area is closed for the next several months.

July 9: Mei's a Mom!

Zoo veterinarian Suzan Murray watching the wonderful moment along with FONZ Panda Watchers.
Zoo veterinarian Suzan Murray watching the wonderful moments along with FONZ Panda Watchers.
Female Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub at 3:41 a.m. on July 9. Mother and cub seem to be doing fine. At a 9 a.m. briefing, Head Veterinarian Suzan Murray and Assistant Curator Lisa Stevens reported that the cub is active and loudly vocal, and Mei is showing signs of being a great mother. She picked up the cub within about two minutes of its birth and has been cuddling and cradling it since then. When mom dozes off, and the cub squeals, she immediately wakes up and attends to it.

Volunteer watchers noticed signs of Mei Xiang going into labor, including restlessness and panting, about 1 a.m. Panda keeper Brenda Morgan was called in and was here to see the birth on the video monitors—the only way anyone is seeing the new mom and her cub. Suzan and Lisa arrived a few minutes later.

Animal care staff are adopting a hands-off approach to keep the atmosphere for Mei and cub calm. They will intervene only if the cub shows signs of distress or Mei begins to ignore it. At present, though, all indications are that the cub is healthy and mother is attentive. This hands-off approach means we won't know the weight or sex of the cub for some time.

Lisa Stevens (right) and FONZ volunteer watching Mei Xiang caring for her cubs, about 7:30 a.m.
Lisa Stevens (right) and a FONZ volunteer watching Mei Xiang caring for her cub, about 7:30 a.m. on July 9.

Help Us Protect Giant Pandas
We need your help to support ongoing research and conservation projects by National Zoo scientists to protect giant pandas at the Zoo and in their native China. You can help support these conservation efforts by giving to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. Donate now.

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