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Panda cub passes its first health inspection



Published: Wed, August 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The mother didn't leave the birthing den for five days after the cub was born.

WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON -- The National Zoo's giant panda cub is male, weighs just under 2 pounds and is a foot long, according to a veterinarian who examined the newborn Tuesday morning.

The cub's heart and respiratory rates indicate that he is in good health, zoo associate veterinarian Sharon Deem said in a statement. He weighs 1.82 pounds, nearly four times what he probably weighed at birth.

Until now, zoo staff had only been able to view the cub on a camera in the birthing den that is also connected to the Internet for the world to see. But Tuesday morning, when mother Mei Xiang left the birthing den to eat bamboo in a neighboring room at the Panda House, Deem, assistant curator Lisa Stevens and panda keeper Laurie Perry gave the cub a nine-minute exam.

Zoo staff have been waiting until the mother left the cub regularly for several minutes at a time so they could close the door to the birthing area and examine the young panda without causing Mei Xiang undue stress.

Baby changes

The cub was born July 9, and immediately began squealing to make his needs known. He is much quieter now. Born without fur, he has developed the distinctive striped back, eye patches, and dark ears and legs of his species. He also appears to be trying to crawl. Although Mei Xiang carefully shielded him with her giant paw during his first days of life, the cub now frequently can be seen poking his head out or nursing on her chest.

The cub was born blind and vulnerable to infection, so was entirely dependent on his mother's care. By now, zoo staff say the cub has acquired antibodies from his mother's milk, and is better able to regulate his temperature as his fur has begun to grow in. Panda cubs' eyes typically begin to open when they are a month old.

Mei Xiang did not leave the birthing den for a drink of water until five days after the cub was born and did not have her first bite of bamboo after the birth until July 25.

The Panda House will be closed until at least early October to give mother and cub time to bond, but the outdoor yard is open and the cub's father, Tian Tian, can sometimes be seen there. Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated in March.

The cub is her first, and is the longest-lived of any cub born at the National Zoo.




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