22-year-old giant panda mom gives birth to ‘miracle’ cub at National Zoo

It’s always a very special and exciting day at a zoo when an animal gives birth, especially when it is a rare or endangered species. A healthy new baby gives hope for a new generation.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo, in Washington DC, has a lot to celebrate this week, and is making national headlines, with their newest arrival:

A giant panda cub!

Mei Xiang, one of the zoo’s female giant pandas, gave birth to her cub on August 21. It was the first panda cub born there in five years.

The National Zoo reports that the new mother and her cub “appear to be doing well,” and that Mei Xiang has quickly taken to her new mother role.

“[She] is caring for her newborn attentively,” they wrote on Instagram. “Keepers are watching Mei Xiang’s behavior and hope to see her nurse the cub and cradle it close to keep him/her warm.”

Keepers are currently monitoring the pandas. They will need to wait for mom to leave her pen to examine the new arrival.

For now, there isn’t much to see—a zookeeper told the New York Times that the cub was a “tiny little pink bald thing” only the size of a stick of butter, though it’s already making plenty of noise.

The birth is considered a miracle for many reasons. Giant pandas are famously difficult at breeding: females only have a 24-72 hour period in which they can get pregnant every year, so any birth is a big deal

But on top of that, at 22-years-old, Mei Xiang is the oldest panda ever to give birth in the US: She only had a one percent chance at success.

Mei Xiang with one of her cubs. Wikimedia Commons

“Because Mei Xiang is of advanced maternal age, we knew the chances of her having a cub were slim,” said zoo director Steve Monfort.

“However, we wanted to give her one more opportunity to contribute to her species’ survival. I am incredibly proud of our animal care and science teams, whose expertise in giant panda behavior was critical to this conservation success.”

Another reason is that pandas are so rare and in need of protection. While their status went from “endangered” to “vulnerable” a few years ago, they are still a species in need of some hope.

“Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and with the birth of this precious cub we are thrilled to offer the world a much-needed moment of pure joy,” Monfort said.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time: during the COVID-19 pandemic, when zoos are shut and the national mood is grim, we’re always looking for some positive news like this.

“If there was ever a time that Mei Xiang needed to do us a [favor] and have a baby, it’s right now,” chief veterinarian Don Neiffer told the Washington Post. “In the middle of a pandemic, this is a joyful moment.”

As we watch this story develop, rest assured that this new panda is in good hands, both from the zookeepers and his loving mother.

“We know from her history that she’s a good mom, and she’s going to take care of that cub,” deputy director Brandie Smith told the New York Times.

Incredible! Congratulations to new mother Mei Xiang and everyone at the National Zoo for a successful birth. We can’t wait to see this new cub grow up.

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