Giant Panda Cub Bei Bei Recovering from Successful Bowel Surgery

Anne Gilewski, registered veterinary technician, checks giant panda cub Bei Bei's vital prior to surgery.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s giant panda cub Bei Bei is stable and recovering following an emergency bowel obstruction surgery to remove a dense, masticated lemon-sized mass of bamboo.

“I’m extremely proud and thankful for our team of keepers, veterinarians, animal care staff, volunteer medical experts and all staff who have helped facilitate the urgent response,” said Director Dennis Kelly. “Bei Bei’s prognosis is very good.  The challenge will be for our team to monitor him safely and that requires his cooperation. We will keep everyone up to speed as he recovers.”

On Thursday, Nov. 24, giant panda cub Bei Bei showed signs of stomach discomfort and nausea. He was sleeping more than normal and not eating. Bei Bei was given an anti-nausea medication injection and remained in his indoor enclosure under observation.  Zoo animal care and veterinary staff observed him closely throughout the day and made periodic checks overnight to monitor his condition. 

Earlier this morning, Nov. 25, Bei Bei was taken to the vet hospital for further evaluation. Volunteer Dr. Elyshia Hankin, board-certified veterinary radiologist at the Friendship Hospital for Animals, performed an ultrasound of his stomach and bowels revealing a blockage at the top of the small intestine. Following an initial endoscopic exploration, it was clear to the veterinary team that the mass would not resolve itself on its own and the blockage needed to be removed surgically. 

Volunteer Dr. Sebastian Gordon, a board-certified veterinary surgeon from Lazar Veterinary Surgery, performed life-saving surgery to remove the mass of bamboo that was distending the small intestine and preventing intestinal movement. Bei Bei is awake and recovering in the David M. Rubenstein Giant Panda Habitat.  Veterinary, animal care and nutrition staff will focus on getting his gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly and managing any discomfort. Bei Bei will be given water overnight and will then be transitioned to soft foods such as sweet potatoes, pears and ground up leaf-eater biscuits. When bamboo is added back to his diet, it will likely be finely cut leaves. There is every expectation Bei Bei will return to his normal diet in the near future.

To ensure his recovery goes smoothly and veterinary and animal care staff have access to Bei Bei, he will be housed separately from Mei Xiang, his mother, and off the panda cams for the next few days. The Zoo will provide daily updates on Bei Bei’s recovery via social media. The panda house is temporarily closed. Bao Bao, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian may be viewed in their outdoor yards.

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