Life looks promising for panda Mei Xiang’s surviving cub.
The panda mom is taking good care of the newborn, sleeping little — like most mothers of newborns — and keeping the surviving baby close. The cub is also being quite vocal, active, and nursing over night; it’s “growing more hair, its tail looks plump and the cub overall looks great,” zoo officials told NBC Washington.
The National Zoo also announced Friday that the newborn is a boy, a tough determination to make since a baby panda’s reproductive organs aren’t fully developed, The Washington Post noted. Alternatively, doctors figure it out by examining the chromosomes.
The surviving newborn’s twin died on Wednesday after vets had some difficulty swapping the two cubs with their mom; the panda wouldn’t release the cub in her arms. Twins born in the wild generally don’t both survive because the mother is unable to care for both.
“As the [smaller one] got weaker, looking at the videos we have, there is some feeling that Mei Xiang knew something was going on,” said chief vet chief veterinarian Don Neiffer. “There was never any evidence that she was preferring one … over the other.”
“At some point, mom would more then likely do what they do in the wild… she would have made a choice. They don’t generally raise both of them.”
Vets spent six hours nursing the surviving cub’s twin in effort to keep it alive; they hand fed and tube fed it formula.
An initial necropsy has shown that the newborn died after inhaling some food and contracting pneumonia, something that could’ve happened to either animal since vets alternated feeding the siblings.
The deceased twin may have inhaled food during a bottle feeding or during tube feeding, in which a tube goes down the throat into the stomach. Despite the end result, vets said resorting to this feeding method was necessary.
— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) August 28, 2015
“My feeling is that the reason this cub declined is because of complications associated with us hand rearing it, providing milk either through the nipple or the stomach tube. If we had not done anything, there was a real chance that neither cub would survive.”
Zoo officials also made another announcement — the paternity. Mei was inseminated with semen from two pandas. A paternity test revealed that the daddy is Tian Tian, who also fathered Mei’s daughter Bao Bao.
Mei Xiang gave birth on Aug. 22 to much worldwide acclaim and interest; the panda birth was only the third ever in the United States. You can watch the panda’s progress online through a live camera stream here.
[Photo by Handout/Getty Images]