Giant Panda Cub Brings Smiles to Smithsonian's National Zoo


There was excitement in the air on Friday, August 23 at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. The zoo's panda team watched the panda cam anxiously as Mei Xiang, the zoo's female panda, went into labor around 3:36 pm. After two hours, at 5:32 pm, she gave birth to a cub! Viewers heard the cub vocalize and caught a quick glimpse before Mei Xiang immediately began cradling it. The cub had its first neonatal exam on Sunday morning. It appeared robust, active and a healthy shade of pink. The cub weighed 4.8 ounces (137 grams) and is nursing and digesting successfully. At the time of the exam, it had a full belly. 


“I’m glued to the new panda cams and thrilled to hear the squeals, which appear healthy, of our newborn cub,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “Our expansive panda team has worked tirelessly analyzing hormones and behavior since March, and as a result of their expertise and our collaboration with scientists from around the world we are celebrating this birth.”


Panda pregnancies can be tricky. Artificial insemination has been long used and is one of the more successful methods of producing cubs for Giant Pandas in captivity. Changes in hormone levels and behaviors indicate a pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. The only way to definitively differentiate between a true pregnancy and a pseudopregnancy is seeing a fetus on an ultrasound. In Mei's pregancy, a secondary rise in urinary progesterone on July 10 indicated that she would either give birth or experience a pseudopregnancy in just over a month. Her behavior was consistent with this. She experienced decreased appetite and began spending more time in her den. An ultrasound on August 5 showed no evidence of a fetus. However, by August 11 she began body licking and cradling toys, which indicated that she could give birth soon. Luckiy, she did! A paternal analysis will determine the father of the pup within a few weeks. Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated twice on March 30 with semen from both Tian Tian, the zoo's male Giant Panda, and San Diego Zoo's male Giant Panta, Gao Gao.


This is Mei Xiang's third cub as a result of artificial insemination. Her first cub, Tai Shan, was born in 2005. He now lives at the Panda Base in BiFengxia in Ya'an China. The zoo's pandas live in the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda habitat, where they conduct cutting-edge research crucial to the survival of this endangered species.

Photo Credits Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo

UPDATE! Giant Panda Mother and Cub Reunite at Taipei Zoo

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Taipei Zoo's Giant Panda cub is growing up healthy and strong. At one month old, she now weighs in at 2.5 pounds (1,140 grams), more than six times her weight at birth. The cub was hand-raised due to concerns that the mother, Yuan Yuan, would not be able to provide the best care for her baby. (See our original story about the birth here.)  The cub has been named Yuan Tsai, and although she will not appear before the public for another three months, many families flocked to Taipei Zoo's recent baby shower in celebration of the first panda born in Taiwan. 

About a month after Yuan Tsai's July 6th-birth, Zookeepers began to carefully conduct a series of introductions between mother and baby. For the safety of the little one, the sessions took place in a controlled environment, in case the mother did not respond well to her reintroduced cub. The gradual introductions worked well and now Yuan Tsai and her mother are fully reunited. 

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Photo credits: Taipei Zoo

Watch as zookeepers carefully introduce mother and cub:

See the cub returned to her mother:


See more photos of Yuan Tsai's development after the fold!

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Twins Are a Handful for Zoo Atlanta's Giant Panda Mom


Zoo Atlanta's Lun Lun, a 15-year-old Giant Panda, gave birth to twins on July 15. The cubs are the first Giant Pandas to be born in the U.S. in 2013 as well as the first twins to be born in the U.S. since 1987.

Lun Lun is an experienced and capable mother, but she has never before given birth to twins, which are not unusual in her species. Zoo staff are caring for one of the cubs in the nursery unit in the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Giant Panda Center, while Lun Lun is currently caring for the other cub. Assisting Zoo Atlanta staff is an animal care colleague from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where mom Lun Lun and father Yang Yang were born. Zoo Staff may rotate the cubs’ time with the mother, to ensure that both receive an equal share of maternal care without overexerting Lun Lun. You might be able to sneak a peek of Lun Lun with a cub through Zoo Atlanta's live Panda Cam.   



Photo credits: Zoo Atlanta

Watch a video of the twins' birth: 
Take a look inside the incubator:


In the wild, Giant Panda mothers typically care for only one cub when twins are born. Thus, it is normal in the wild for only one of the twins to survive. Giant Panda twins have survived in zoos within and outside of China. Usually this is accomplished by rotating the cubs with the mother for the first few months. However, Giant Pandas are born very tiny, and there is a high risk of mortality in the first few months. This risk increases in twins, which tend to have lower birth weights than do single cubs.

Learn more after the fold!

Continue reading "Twins Are a Handful for Zoo Atlanta's Giant Panda Mom" »

Tiny Giant Panda Cub Born at Taipei Zoo

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Taipei Zoo's Giant Panda Yuan Yuan gave birth to a little cub on July 6. The newborn is female, measuring six inches (15 cm) in length. She weighs 183.4 grams, about one 1000th of her mother's weight. The little cub had her first health examination soon after she was born. She is healthy and being hand-raised in a nursery incubator, using milk collected from her mother as well as artificial milk. At about three days old, the cub's umbilical cord fell off, leaving her with a tiny belly button (see the third photo)!

Yuan Yuan, a first time mother, has received dedicated postnatal care and has regained her appetite four days after the birth. She receives comforting massages, has a hot water bottle, and now eats bamboo leaves with some honey water. 

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Photo credits: Taipei Zoo

See a video of the birth here:


Watch the newborn being bottle-fed here:


First-time mom, Yuan Yuan, gets some loving postnatal care:


See photos from the newborn cub's first medical checkup after the fold!

Continue reading "Tiny Giant Panda Cub Born at Taipei Zoo" »

Baby Red Panda Hand-Reared at Mogo Zoo

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Following an uncertain start to life, Chai, a Red Panda cub born at Mogo Zoo on the South Coast of New South Wales, will be making her first public debut. Born on December 3rd, the baby was  rejected by mom at just six days old. It was necessary for the Zoo’s veterinarian, Dr Sam Young, to intervene and hand-raise the cub. 

Since then, Chai has been bottle-fed a special milk formula and has only recently been introduced to bamboo and fresh fig. The energetic youngster now weighs a healthy 2.8 kilograms and is proving a handful for Dr Young  and the Zoo’s keepers. Chai’s abundant energy is harnessed as she often wrestles her stuffed toys and balls, and on occasion has been known to cheekily bite her keepers. Dr Young commented, “It’s been a great pleasure and challenge caring for Chai and watching her develop and grow. We’ve become very fond of her mischievous nature and look forward to seeing her interact with the public for the first time”.

The Red Panda is listed as a vulnerable species as its population has dwindled to fewer than 10,000 individuals, with a declining trend of greater than 10% over the next three future generations. Habitat destruction is the greatest threat faced by Red Pandas today, who, in the wild, are found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal. In eastern Nepal, six land management practices are collectively threatening the survival of this species: demand for firewood; grazing; hunting; cash cropping; timber and the medicinal plant trade.

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Photo Credit: June Andersen, Mogo Zoo

Learn more and see more Panda pictures after the jump:

Continue reading "Baby Red Panda Hand-Reared at Mogo Zoo" »

UPDATE! Panda Cub's First Snow Day at San Diego Zoo

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It was all about new experiences as the youngest member of the Giant Panda family, Xiao Liwu, got to play in the snow for the first time today at the San Diego Zoo. The seven-month-old cub explored his snowy exhibit and had fun climbing all over mom Bai Yun, playfully nipping and wrestling with her in the snow.

Over 15 tons of fresh snow was blown into the pandas' exhibit early in the morning on March 19th as part of an enrichment surprise for the pandas. The snow for the Giant Pandas was made possible by generous donors who contributed enough funds to the Zoo's online Animal Care Wish List to provide 30,000 pounds of snow.

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Photo Credits: San Diego Zoo

Watch the pandas enjoying their snow day: 

See more photos after the fold.

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Help Make More Baby Pandas!

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Giant Pandas don't much like to breed. This is bad news for the species and bad news for those of us who demand more panda cubs in our lives!

Fortunately, researcher Meghan Martin is taking on this prudish-panda-challenge. Her new project aims to determine whether providing pandas with a choice of mates, rather than just one, increases reproductive success.

Meghan is raising money on a new crowd-funding platform called Microryza, which allows individuals to directly follow and fund scientific research. How cool is that? She only has 18 days left and A LOT of fundraising to go. She won't meet her goal without our help. So ZooBorns fans, here's your chance to directly contribute to the science that results in the babies you love and the conservation causes you care about. Learn more about Meghan's work and do your part on the project page - Increasing the reproductive success in captive Giant Pandas

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To whet our baby panda appetite, she also shared these wonderful photos of cubs born at BiFengXia Panda Base, where her research will be conducted.

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Meghan Martin provided the following background on the cubs in these photos: 

The babies don't have names of yet.  They were born in the BiFengXia Panda Base (right outside of Ya'an, China) in July-August making them about 8 months old.  This is the base where all of the Wolong pandas were moved after the 2008 earthquake.  We've actually collected our first year of research data on these babies, their moms, and their dads.  

The babies don't have names yet - it's tradition in China to wait until they're older to name the cubs.  Right now they just call them "xiao" (small) and then their mother's name.  The pictured cubs are Hua Mei's cub, a San Diego born panda, Long Xin's, Shui Xiu, and Xi Mei cubs.   All of these pandas except for Hua Mei had two cubs.  Si Xue, Guo Guo, and Ye Ye all had cubs as well but they are not pictured.  

I've spent the most time watching Hua Mei's cub - she's a climber and is the one pictured in the tire swing!  Just yesterday she climbed to the top of a tree in one of the natural enclosures (picture attached).  In the wild the mother will often leave the cubs up in the trees while she finds food (kinda of the opposite from deer).  Long Xin's cub likes to curl up into a little ball on the platform and sleep all tucked in on himself.  
At this age, they mainly love playing with each other, climbing, and getting into trouble. They're so inquisitive and investigate even the smallest bug in their enclosures. They all have this cute little instinct to roll up into a ball if you scratch the top of their tails and then you can roll them along the ground. 

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So make a direct impact on the future of a species and invest in new Giant Panda cubs with a small donation to Meghan's groundbreaking research here
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UPDATE! Playful Giant Panda Cub's Wiggly Vet Check at the San Diego Zoo

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Six-month-old Xiao Liwu, a Giant Panda cub born on July 29, 2012 at the San Diego Zoo, has become very strong, and isn't very interested in sitting still for his check-up! Despite that, Zoo staff were able to complete the exam on Wednesday morning, which started with Veterinary resident Matt Kinney, DVM, listening to the baby's heart and lungs. It took three sets of hands to measure the rambunctious baby, but the news was all good. 

Xiao Liwu weighed 19.4 pounds (8.8kg) and measured 24.6 inches long (88 cm). He's growing at the expected rate and is very healthy. The cub has also had more teeth break through his gums. This time around, both incisors could be seen. 

While his physique is slimming a bit, he has gained a lot of muscle in his back legs due to climbing trees and all the new activity he does in the exhibit. Despite his improved agility, Xiao Liwu has taken several tumbles while on view to the public. But it's all part of growing up; animal care staff expects the cub to take falls while he's learning to walk and climb. 

Xiao Liwu can be seen at play daily online, via the zoo's live Panda Cam.

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Photo Credit: Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo

UPDATE! San Diego Zoo's Panda Cub's Toys Prepare Him for Foray into Habitat

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Yesterday was a big day for the San Diego Zoo's Giant Panda cub, Xiao Liwu: this was his first time greeting onlookers. The cub stepped into the outside habitat by himself in morning on January 9 and climbed through the bamboo as employees and media representatives got their first glimpses of the five-month-old.

Panda staff say the cub is a confident climber but may have some tumbles while he's getting used to the new habitat, which is very normal. There are trees, a moat and rocks to climb over, which are all new elements for the cub. In late December he was given toys during his vet exam that helped him prepare for outside exploration, including a doughnut-shaped plastic ring (perfect for panda sitting), a stick of bamboo and a plastic ball. 

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Photo Credit: Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo

Only 1,600 Giant Pandas are believed to exist in the wild, and the species is primarily threatened by habitat loss. San Diego Zoo Global, in conjunction with Giant Panda experts from the People's Republic of China, continues to work on science-based panda conservation programs at the Zoo and in China.  

Here's a video of little Xiao Liwu as he navigates the great outdoors with mom.


Panda Cub Has a Ball at His Exam

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The San Diego Zoo's Giant Panda cub, Xiao Liwu, was eager to play with a plastic ball during his 18th exam. Panda keepers gave the cub the ball to test his coordination and encourage him to play with new objects. Follow Xiao Liwu's progress and antics on the Zoo's Panda Cam! Don't miss the awesome video below.