WASHINGTON — In what might be the only good news 2020 has produced, the National Zoo announced Friday evening that a panda cub was born!
Mei Xiang gave birth around 6:35 p.m. and the Zoo said she is caring for the cub attentively. Keepers were pleased to see the 22-year-old mom immediately pick up her cub and begin cradling it to keep him/her warm.
"Positive mother behaviors include nursing her cub and cuddling it close," the Zoo's birth announcement said.
Keepers will keep a close eye on Mei Xiang’s behavior to make sure they continue to see positive signs. They’re also listening for loud squeals, which are signs of a healthy cub.
Panda births are rare given that female giant pandas are only able to become pregnant for 24 to 72 hours each year.
D.C. has been on panda watch since Aug. 14 when the Zoo said that their veterinarians had spotted some fetal tissue in their female giant panda. They said they also noticed a developing skeletal structure and strong blood flow in Mei Xiang’s uterus.
Right before the pandemic started, Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated on March 22 with frozen semen collected from Tian Tian.
“In the middle of a pandemic, this is a joyful moment we can all get excited about,” Don Neiffer, chief veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo who conducted the ultrasound, said. “We are optimistic that very shortly she may give birth to a healthy cub or cubs. We’re fortunate that Mei Xiang participated in the ultrasound allowing us to get sharp images and video. We’re watching her closely and welcome everyone to watch with us on the panda cams."
Mei Xiang is the oldest giant panda in the United States to give birth. Mei Xiang has given birth to three surviving cubs: Tai Shan, Bao Bao, and Bei Bei. As part of an agreement with China, all panda cubs born at the Zoo move to China at the age of four.
“Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and with the birth of this precious cub we are thrilled to offer the world a much-needed moment of pure joy,” Steve Monfort, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, said. “Because Mei Xiang is of advanced maternal age, we knew the chances of her having a cub were slim. However, we wanted to give her one more opportunity to contribute to her species’ survival."
The Zoo's website is currently experiencing such a high traffic volume that it's loading intermittently, but you can find the Panda Cam here.