Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Frequently Asked Questions About Our Panda Cub

When will the cub be on exhibit?

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat will reopen to the public when the cub is about four months old, though the exact timing will depend on Mei Xiang and the cub.

Will this cub go to China?

Yes, the cub will go to China after four years.

When will the cub get a name?

It is traditional to name giant panda cubs when they are 100 days old.

Why do you need a DNA test to determine the cub’s sex?

External genitalia in bears doesn’t develop until the bear is several months old. We should be able to tell the sex of the cub in a few weeks. The best, and most reliable, way to determine a bear cub’s sex is through DNA analysis.

How did you determine the window for a possible birth?

The panda team prepared for a panda cub birth based on behaviors they saw, hormones they monitored, and a new test that measured Mei Xiang’s levels of prostaglandin metabolite. National Zoo scientists detected a secondary rise in Mei Xiang’s urinary progesterone July 10. That rise indicated that she would give birth to a cub or experience a pseudopregnancy in 40 to 55 days. Scientists at the Memphis Zoo analyzed her levels of prostaglandin metabolite. They determined that if Mei Xiang was pregnant she would give birth to a cub between August 22 and August 26. If she was not her pseudpregnancy would end between August 29 and September 8.

The panda team began monitoring Mei Xiang 24-hours-a-day on August 7. They began to see behaviors consistent with a pregnancy or pseudopregnancy on August 11, when she began body licking and object cradling.   

Why did you use sperm from both Tian Tian and Gao Gao?

In China, it is standard practice to use sperm from more than one male when artificially inseminating a female. This increases the chances of fertilization and viable embryos.

Why is Mei Xiang in such a small space?

In the wild, bears—including giant pandas—give birth in small dens. In China's Wolong Reserve, pandas make their dens in large hollow conifer trees, with a diameter of about three feet. Where there aren’t any trees, pandas den in caves with a little bedding of twigs. They stay in these dens for about the cub’s first 100 days.

We strive to recreate these surroundings for Mei Xiang. In January of this year, in anticipation of the breeding season, we rearranged Mei Xiang’s den. We shifted the angle of the bars, so that keepers have more direct access to Mei Xiang and her cub while they are resting in the nest area. The old bars were recycled, making the renovations not only a little greener, but also a little less overwhelming for Mei Xiang. It was as if the “furniture” was simply rearranged one day.

Why are the lights always on in the den? Why is the cam sometimes in color and sometimes in black and white?

It is usually dark in Mei's den, as it would be in a wild bear's den, but the cams have infared and low-light capabilities, which allows her and the cub to be visible to cam viewers. This is also why the cam usually looks black and white. When the keepers turn on the lights, the cam shows up in color—except for the bears, of course, who are always black and white.

Why isn't Mei eating?

When bears give birth in the wild, the mothers spend several months denned up with their cubs. Their focus during this time is nurturing and protecting their cubs, rather than eating. Scientists have observed giant panda mothers in the wild go as long as a month without eating or drinking. Like other bears, pandas seem to go through a metabolic shift during the summer months, when their food intake drops up to 75 percent. This coincides with when pandas den and produce cubs, like other bear species. One difference to note is that other bears fast for several months during hibernation.

Will Tian Tian meet the cub?

Male pandas are not involved in the care of their cubs. Fathers and cubs may never encounter each other in the wild.

Why are you performing frequent health checks on the cub this year?

The panda team’s primary goal is always to provide Mei Xiang with the opportunity to raise her cub, however, since she gave birth to a cub last year that did not survive they will conduct health checks earlier than they ever have before. (The panda team includes keepers, trained-volunteer behavior watchers, veterinarians and scientists.) In the first days of life, the cub and Mei Xiang, will be monitored 24 hours a day via the panda cams.

The curator of Giant Pandas, keepers and veterinarians will determine how many health checks the cub will receive.

What do you do during the health checks?

When the panda team conducts a health check they have a list of things to accomplish. They will measure the cub’s body weight, assess hydration, take a body measurement, check the oral cavity, check the umbilicus, check genitalia and rectal area, palpate the abdominal cavity, take a fecal culture, take the rectal temperature, listen for a heartbeat and lung sounds, and collect any urine produced.

The team will also evaluate Mei Xiang and attempt to collect milk samples from her.

How do you swap the cub from the den?

Mei Xiang’s den was rearranged earlier this year to allow the panda team to get closer to her and a cub to do health checks, or retrieve the cub. There is a barrier in the den, which keeps members of the panda team safe when they enter the den with Mei Xiang and the cub. Mei Xiang and the keepers are never on the same side of the barrier.

When the panda team removes the cub from the den for a health check a minimum of two keepers are always present. (No more than three keepers enter the den at the same time.) One keeper focuses on retrieving the cub, and another keeper monitors Mei Xiang. Keepers offered Mei Xiang bamboo, juice, sugarcane or honey water while they retrieved the cub during the first weeks of her life. Now that Mei Xiang is leaving the cub more frequently for longer periods of time, keepers can retrieve her from the den while Mei is eating in the adjacent enclosure.

They will pick the cub up with a gloved hand.

Why Did a keeper Come from China to help you at first?

Li Guo the giant panda keeper who visited from China supported the National Zoo’s panda team from August 23 until September 10. He is a giant panda cub nursery expert. Li has extensive experience caring for cubs.

How can I help pandas?

Support the Zoo's giant panda conservation efforts at the Zoo and in China by giving to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. Donate now.