Giant Panda Cub Born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

Giant panda Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) gave birth to a cub at the Smithsonian's National Zoo today, Aug. 22. The panda team witnessed the birth at 5:35 pm. Mei Xiang reacted to the cub by picking it up. The panda team began preparing for a birth when they saw Mei Xiang's water break at 4:32 pm and she was already having contractions. The sex of the cub won't be determined until a later date.

The Zoo's panda team is monitoring Mei Xiang and the cub via the Zoo's panda cams. The panda team will perform a neonatal exam on the cub when they are able to retrieve it. That may take a few days.

All of us are thrilled that Mei Xiang has given birth. The cub is vulnerable at this tiny size but we know Mei is an excellent mother," said Zoo director Dennis Kelly."Thank you to all of our excellent keepers, veterinarians, researchers and Chinese colleagues who contributed and therefore deserve credit for this conservation success."

Veterinarians first detected evidence of a fetus on an ultrasound Aug. 19. It was the first time they had ever seen a fetus on an ultrasound, as Mei Xiang usually chooses not to participate in ultrasounds in the final weeks of her pregnancies and pseudopregnancies. At the time, the fetus was about 4 centimeters in length.

Reproductive scientists from the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) artificially inseminated Mei Xiang April 26 and 27. For the first time, scientists used semen collected from a giant panda named Hui Hui (h-WEI h-WEI). He lives at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong and was determined to be one of the best genetic matches for Mei Xiang. A cub by Mei Xiang and Hui Hui would be very genetically valuable, helping to preserve the genetic diversity of the panda population in human care.

The sample from Hui Hui was frozen and flown from China to the cryopreservation bank at the National Zoo. Scientists also used high-quality fresh semen collected from the Zoo's male giant panda, Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), for the artificial inseminations. DNA analysis will determine the sire of the cub.

SCBI scientists confirmed that a secondary rise in giant panda Mei Xiang's urinary progesterone levels began July 20. This signaled that Mei Xiang would either have a cub or experience the end of a pseudopregnancy within 30 to 50 days.

At that time, Mei Xiang also began exhibiting behaviors consistent with pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. She started nest building, spending more time in her den, sleeping more and eating less. In recent weeks, she also spent time body licking and cradling toys. The area of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat closest to her den closed to provide her with quiet, since Mei Xiang shows extra sensitivity to noise during the final weeks of a pseudopregnancy or pregnancy. Keepers moved to round-the-clock behavior watch via panda cam to monitor Mei Xiang Aug. 20.

The panda team expects Mei Xiang to spend almost all of her time in her den for the next two weeks with her newborn cub. The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat has been closed to the public since Aug. 20, and will remain closed until further notice to provide quiet for Mei and her cub. Both will continue to be visible on the panda cams. Visitors can also see Tian Tian and two-year-old Bao Bao (BOW-BOW), in their outdoor habitat and on the panda cam.

Mei Xiang has given birth to two surviving cubs: Tai Shan (tie-SHON) and Bao Bao. Tai Shan was born July 9, 2005, and he now lives in China. Bao Bao was born Aug. 23, 2013. She will live at the Zoo until she turns 4; at that time, Bao Bao will also go to live in China and, eventually enter the giant panda breeding program. Both Tai Shan and Bao Bao were born as the result of artificial inseminations.

The Zoo will continue to provide daily updates on Mei Xiang and the cub through Instagram using #PandaStory, and the Giant Panda e-newsletter.

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Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Zoo