#PandaStory: 28 Days Old

This update was written by Laurie Thompson, assistant curator of giant pandas.

It’s hard to believe that our giant panda cub is four weeks old! We are encouraged that the newborn appears to be growing well. This is a sign that it is getting good nutrition from mother Mei Xiang’s milk. The cub is getting so big that it is much more visible on the Panda Cam now (especially when getting fed or groomed).

In the wild, a giant panda mother spends much of her cub’s first month of life feeding, holding and keeping it warm. Mei Xiang has followed a similar pattern of behavior. Now that our cub is growing into the pandas’ signature ‘plump,’ it is starting to regulate its own body temperature. At the same time, we are seeing a steady progression in Mei Xiang’s appetite.

This week, she chose to leave her den up to three times a day and for as long as 18 minutes to eat and drink. Mei Xiang has her pick of two species of bamboo to eat, plus leaf eater biscuits, which are calorically dense. As the cub gets older, she will leave for longer periods. Meantime, our panda team continues to offer Mei Xiang juice and water and her favorite fruit—apples and pears—twice daily from the staff space adjacent to her den. When we do so, the Panda Cam is temporarily switched to our adult male, Tian Tian.

Interestingly, Mei Xiang has followed a similar eating schedule with all of her cubs. With Tai Shan (b. 2005), she ate bamboo for the first time since giving birth on day 16. Following Bao Bao (b. 2013) and Bei Bei’s (b. 2015) births, she took her first taste of bamboo on day 14. And, as we noted with this cub in a previous update, she started consuming bamboo when it was 15 days old.   

Like many of you, our dedicated team of FONZ volunteers are observing Mei Xiang and her cub’s behaviors from home via the Panda Cam. Over the past week, they have observed Mei Xiang making a “honking” vocalization. Giant pandas make this vocalization occasionally, and both Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have even been observed honking in their sleep!

Usually, a honking vocalization is their way of expressing their surprise, frustration or annoyance at being disturbed in some way. For example, when Mei Xiang was pregnant and quite sensitive to noise, she honked in response to a bird that was loudly tweeting outside her den. She also honked prior to giving birth to this cub as well as all of her previous cubs.

We look forward to the next cub exam to see how the cub has grown!

This story appears in the Sept. 18 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin. Read previous panda updates here.  

Planning a visit to the Zoo? Please note that Asia Trail—including giant panda viewing—is temporarily closed to visitors for the scheduled repaving of walkways.