Euphoric atmosphere follows birth of panda at National Zoo
Mei Xiang, the zoo's female giant panda, gave birth to her second panda cub at 10:46 p.m. Sunday. Her first cub was Tai Shan, born in 2005.
While zoo officials didn't catch a glimpse of the cub until late Monday morning, they did hear squawking sounds from the newborn and witnessed Mei Xiang cradling something in her arms.
Nicole MacCorkle, an animal keeper who has worked almost exclusively with the pandas for years, said the panda team was excited about the birth.
"It's great to see her with a cub tucked under her chin again, like last time," MacCorkle said, referring to the birth of Mei Xiang's first cub.
After an attempt to breed Mei Xiang naturally with the zoo's male giant panda failed, Mei Xiang underwent artificial insemination in April. Even with the procedure, the 14-year old Mei Xiang had a less than 10 percent chance of getting pregnant, MacCorkle said.
"We were confused and actually quite pessimistic that a panda that had gone six years between births would be able to reproduce," Kelly said. "We think there is some interesting science to be learned."
Kelly said the zoo will be using data from Mei Xiang to help determine markers of pregnancy hormones that help indicate when a panda is pregnant. Until Tuesday night, zookeepers could not be certain that Mei Xiang was pregnant or if she was undergoing a pseudopregnancy, which is typical for pandas.
The baby panda won’t have a name for 100 days.
"I always listen to my good friends in China. They always give me good suggestions on names," Kelly said.
Jasmine Trumbull, 17, of Edgewater, Md., said she was pumped about the birth of the panda. Trumbull is a senior at South River High School. Trumbull and her friends said they were bringing two Spanish foreign exchange students with them to the zoo. The group was wearing panda ears bought at the zoo because they said they were "cute."
"We were talking about different ways we would hold the panda, and different ways we could escape with the panda," Trumbull said. Trumbull joked that she would simply "grab it and run!"
The newborn panda probably won't be available for public viewing until sometime in early 2013, MacCorkle said. However, those eager to catch a glimpse can watch the live panda cam on the National Zoo's website. Another option is to download the zoo's paid mobile app, which gives the user unlimited access to the panda cam.
All pandas in U.S. zoos are owned by China, and Tai Shan was sent to China at age 4 in 2010.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of panda Mei Xiang's name.
Reach reporter Matt Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-2735. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.