The National Zoo’s giant panda cub passed away on Sunday morning of unknown causes, according to an announcement by zoo officials.
The one-week-old cub was found dead early Sunday morning after the zoo’s panda keepers heard sounds of distress from its mother, Mei Xiang, reports The Associated Press.
Zoo staffers were able to retrieve the cub an hour later and attempted to resuscitate it. The baby panda appeared to be in good condition with no outward signs of trauma or infection.
The baby panda was a surprise at the Washington Zoo, because the cub’s 14-year-old mom had five failed pregnancies before she gave birth. Only one panda cub at the zoo has survived in the past.
Baby pandas are about the size of a stick of butter when they are born and are incredibly delicate. With their mothers about 1,000 times heavier than them, the delicate cubs have died in the past by accidentally being crushed by their mothers.
USA Today notes that the Washington Zoo’s first panda couple, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, were given to the US by China in 1972. They had five cubs together during the 1980s, but none of them lived a week. One of their cubs was stillborn, two more died from pneumonia, another from lack of oxygen, and their final cub passed away from an infection after just four days.
The first few weeks of life are critical for the tiny cubs, because mothers need to make sure they stay warm and eat enough. Rebecca Snyder, the curator of mammals at Atlanta’s zoo, stated last week that, “It’s kind of a nerve-racking period for the folks that are monitoring mom and cub.”
The Washington Zoo’s cub had not been named yet, in accordance with Chinese tradition.