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#PandaStory: Cub Day 13

Giant panda Mei Xiang continues to be a wonderful mother to her newborn. Last night, she gently set the cub down on the floor of their den and walked into her main indoor enclosure to drink some water. Once again, we were able to get a good look at it via the Panda Cam. At almost two weeks old, the cub is able to lift itself off of the ground for a few moments. It is exciting to see the iconic black markings around its eyes and on its ears, legs and saddle (back) become more visible every day.

On her way back to the den, Mei Xiang grabbed a stalk of sugar cane—one of her favorite treats—and brought it into the den. For several minutes, she sat and ate while the cub rested by her side. She ate about half of the sugar cane, then placed it on the ground, picked up her cub and began cradling and licking it.

Although she has left the den several times since Aug. 27 to drink water, last night was the first time she showed any interest in food. Personal preferences vary from panda to panda when it comes to eating after giving birth. While some may eat within a few days, it is not unusual for Mei Xiang to refrain from eating for this length of time after birth. When her last cub, Bei Bei, was born Aug. 22, 2015, she didn’t take her first bite of bamboo until Sept. 6—when he was 16 days old.

The door between Mei Xiang’s den and her indoor enclosure is always open, except for the times when the Panda Team is cleaning or replenishing her bamboo. Our Department of Nutrition Sciences delivers fresh bamboo for Tian Tian and Mei Xiang twice per week. As we mentioned in a previous update, giant pandas can have picky palates when it comes to bamboo. During winter and spring, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are partial to a species called yellow groove bamboo. In summer, they prefer to eat arrow bamboo.

Our Panda Team provides Mei Xiang with several fresh stalks of bamboo every day, but so far she has chosen not to eat it. In Mei Xiang’s den, a safety barrier separates her den from the keeper’s space. Keepers go into this area every day to offer her food and water. When they do so, they temporarily switch the cam to our adult male, Tian Tian.

As we saw following Bei Bei’s birth, we anticipate that Mei Xiang’s appetite will increase in the coming days. Once she leaves the den for longer periods to eat, we will have an opportunity to do our first “hands on” check of the cub—getting a good look at its body and weighing it. If time permits, we will take a cheek swab for DNA analysis. Male and female giant panda cubs look very similar at birth, so genetic testing is the most precise method for determining the cub’s sex. Stay tuned!

This story appears in the Sept. 3 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin.