After just six and a half days of life, the National Zoo’s panda cub died suddenly Sunday morning. The death left a list of unknowns for staff and onlookers to sort through. Without a name, and its sex undetermined, the tiny cub was just a blur of squirming limbs and squeaks for much of its life. In a medical examination conducted on Sunday night, veterinarian pathologist John Roberts determined the panda had been nursing properly and was not suffocated (mothers accidentally rolling onto their cubs is not uncommon). Only a few abnormalities appeared and further study is needed to determine their significance.
“The only abnormalities the veterinarians have detected so far were some fluid in her abdomen and a slightly abnormal liver. They don’t know whether either of those things is significant, and they’re still investigating,” the Zoo reports. The staff also learned that the cub was likely female.
The panda cub was to be part of an ongoing effort to understand the breeding and behavior of the endangered species. Its mother, Mei Xiang, was artificially inseminated in April. Officials observed the giant panda for any signs she might be pregnant, and, in August, the Zoo reported she had elevated hormone levels and had begun nesting. The excitement built until Mei Xiang gave birth to the cub on Sunday, September 16, after seven years of failed pregnancies and false hope.
Less than a week later, the saga ended with an alarming honk from Mei Xiang at 9:17 a.m., indicating something had gone terribly wrong. Veterinarians rushed to try to save the baby, but CPR was unsuccessful, according to an official statement. The cub was declared dead at 10:28 a.m.
The first month of life is a critical and perilous time for panda cubs, according to care taker Juan Rodriguez. But after a few days of watching the mother groom, cuddle and care for her infant, chances seemed to be in the baby’s favor.
Now, the team will continue to search for more conclusive results while monitoring Mei until she returns to normal behavior. The staff did report that the mother slept well Sunday night and ate and drank Monday morning. “Watchers did notice her cradling an object,” staff wrote in an official statement Monday morning.
The Zoo added that it is still reeling from the loss of the cub and that, “Every loss is hard but this one is especially devastating.”