Happy Birthday | Aug. 21, 2020
A precious giant panda cub has arrived! We’re overjoyed to share that Mei Xiang gave birth at 6:35 p.m. August 21, 2020 and is caring for her newborn attentively. Positive mothering behaviors include nursing her cub and cuddling it close.
A Glimpse of the Cub | Aug. 22, 2020
Keepers report that giant panda Mei Xiang and her newborn had a successful first night. Between bouts of good rest, Mei Xiang appeared to nurse her cub and was very attentive to its vocalizations. Staff are closely monitoring the pair via the Panda Cam, allowing Mei Xiang and her cub time to bond.
Maternal Behaviors | Aug. 23, 2020
Our panda team observed Mei Xiang and her cub overnight and were happy with the behaviors they saw. As expected, Mei Xiang is being an excellent and attentive mother. She has already established positions for nursing and sleeping. Via the Panda Cam, the team watches Mei Xiang nurse her cub while sitting at the back of the den—often with her knee propped up on the wall—and sleep with it tucked in between her arms.
Mei Xiang and her newborn are getting into a good routine. Assistant curator Laurie Thompson observed that Mei Xiang seems to be able to get more rest with this cub. In previous years, Bao Bao and Bei Bei would vocalize when she attempted to lie down on her side.
Since birth, the cub has been vocalizing regularly with grunts and squeals. As time goes on, keepers are seeing more glimpses of it as Mei Xiang changes position. From what the team has observed so far, it appears to be strong and healthy! On behalf of the panda team and all of us at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, thank you for your well wishes and support.
Snuggle Time | Aug. 24, 2020
Mei Xiang, our 22-year-old giant panda, continues to be a devoted mother. Our newborn cub has little fur and cannot regulate its own body temperature, so Mei Xiang cradles the cub to keep it warm. Interestingly, she has found a new position for holding this cub. Previously, Mei Xiang kept her cubs tucked under her arm. This time, however, she lays on her side with the cub between her forearms. This position also allows for quick access when mom needs to calm it with a lick!
Mei Xiang is able to get much more rest in this position. Our team is so excited when we see glimpses of the cub. Just like all of you, we are closely monitoring mom and cub via the Panda Cam. We’re keeping an eye out for the cub’s black markings, which become visible after it turns one week old.
We so appreciate your continued well wishes and support as we watch the bond between Mei Xiang and her newest cub grow.
Mei Xiang Moves with Her Cub | Aug. 25, 2020
Giant panda Mei Xiang and her newborn cub continue to do well. As Mei Xiang shifts from a resting position (laying down) to a nursing position (sitting up) and vice-versa, she occasionally holds the cub delicately in her mouth.
This morning around 7 a.m., she placed the cub on the floor of the den briefly. Over the next several days, we expect to see Mei Xiang “test” the cub’s tolerance to resting on the floor. Eventually, she will briefly leave the den to get a drink of water and urinate. If the cub vocalizes, Mei Xiang will quickly return to care for it.
Next door, the cub’s father Tian Tian is getting ready to celebrate a big milestone. He turns 23 years old August 27. We’ll celebrate with a panda-friendly fruitsicle cake made by the Zoo’s amazing Nutrition team and some enrichment boxes filled with his favorite
Cub Squeals | Aug. 26, 2020
Giant panda Mei Xiang continues to exhibit excellent maternal care and is attentive to her cub. Regular, loud cub vocalizations are signs of good health and music to the panda team’s ears. Last night around 5:40 p.m., Mei Xiang placed the cub on the floor of her den for just a few seconds, giving all of those watching the Panda Cam a fantastic view of her growing cub. It let out a few hearty squeals, and Mei Xiang immediately picked the cub up, cradled it and gave a few comforting licks.
While it’s always fascinating to follow a cub’s development, we were struck by how its tail has filled out and thickened since birth. A newborn panda weighs about 3 to 5 ounces at birth and measures about 5 to 6 inches in length. We should begin to see its black markings appear in the next few days.
Cub Touches the Den Floor | Aug. 27, 2020
Big news! Last night, our Panda Team observed giant panda Mei Xiang approach the doorway of her den several times, “testing” her cub’s reaction to being placed on the floor. Then, early this morning, she twice left the den to get a drink of water—once at 4:27 a.m. and once at 5:59 a.m. Each time, she only spent about one minute away. Her brief reprieve offered Panda Cam viewers a great look at the growing cub. Upon her return, Mei Xiang immediately picked up her cub and cradled it.
Newborn giant pandas rely on their mothers for warmth, since they have little fur and cannot regulate their own body temperature. During the first few days of a cub’s life, a mother panda forgoes eating and drinking to stay with her offspring. Now that Mei Xiang has started leaving her den to drink, this is a positive sign that the cub can stay warm on its own for short periods.
Over the next few days, we expect Mei Xiang will gradually spend more time away from the den. Eventually, she will feel comfortable leaving the cub for a few minutes while she eats bamboo in her indoor habitat. At that point, the Panda Team will conduct a quick exam of the cub. Mei Xiang’s behavior will dictate how much time keepers have with the cub, but we hope to do a quick check of its body parts, obtain its weight and measurements, and take a cheek swab, which will allow us to analyze the cub’s DNA and determine its sex.
Eye Patches Begin to Form | Aug. 28, 2020
Last night around 5:40 p.m., giant panda Mei Xiang left her cub to drink some water. Once again, her brief departure gave us a good look at the week-old newborn on the Panda Cam. We were encouraged to see the cub holding up its head and using its legs to lift its body off the floor slightly. These are all good signs, and Mei Xiang’s cub seems strong.
The bigger the cub gets, the more distinct its markings get. If you look closely, you can very clearly see black eye patches starting to come in. Less obvious—but still visible—are the black leg patches and saddle (the black marking on a panda's back). Over the next few days, pay close attention to its ears, which will also turn that iconic panda hue.
A Peek at Paws | Aug. 31, 2020
Over the weekend, giant panda Mei Xiang continued to take excellent care of her newborn cub. Although we have not yet had an opportunity to conduct an exam on the cub, we can tell from our observations via the Panda Cam that it is growing nicely. We expect that Mei Xiang will leave the den for longer periods to eat in the coming days. When she does, the panda team will perform a quick check of the cub’s body parts and weigh it. Male and female giant panda cubs look very similar at birth, so genetic testing is the most precise method for determining the cub’s sex. When time permits, we will take a cheek swab for DNA analysis.
In the cub’s first few days, Mei Xiang kept it mostly hidden, tucked beneath her armpit or between her forearms. While she still holds it close to keep it warm, we are now starting to see parts of the cub poke out from its mother’s arms. This photo of the cub’s paws shows the remarkable size difference between the pair. As Mei Xiang adjusts and changes positions, it is not unusual to see the cub twist and turn, too.
Black and White Markings Appear | Sept. 3, 2020
Giant panda Mei Xiang continues to be a wonderful mother to her newborn. Last night, she gently set the cub down on the floor of their den and walked into her main indoor enclosure to drink some water. Once again, we were able to get a good look at it via the Panda Cam. At almost two weeks old, the cub is able to lift itself off of the ground for a few moments. It is exciting to see the iconic black markings around its eyes and on its ears, legs and saddle (back) become more visible every day.
On her way back to the den, Mei Xiang grabbed a stalk of sugar cane—one of her favorite treats—and brought it into the den. For several minutes, she sat and ate while the cub rested by her side. She ate about half of the sugar cane, then placed it on the ground, picked up her cub and began cradling and licking it.
This story, featured in the September 2020 issue of National Zoo News, was originally published on the website of the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
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