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Giant Panda Cub Found Dead At National Zoo

The giant panda cub born to much excitement at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., last weekend was found dead this morning.

The Associated Press reports panda-keepers were alerted by sounds of distress from the cub's mother, Mei Xiang, but it was too late. The cause of death is not yet known, but zoo officials are planning a press conference at 1 p.m. ET.

On its Facebook page, the National Zoo posted this statement:

We are broken-hearted to share that we have lost our little giant panda cub. Panda keepers and volunteers heard Mei Xiang make a distress vocalization at 9:17 a.m. and let the veterinarian staff know immediately. They turned off the panda cam and were able to safely retrieve the cub for an evaluation at 10:22 a.m., which we only do in situations of gravest concern. The veterinarians immediately performed CPR and other life-saving measures, but sadly the cub was unresponsive. We'll have more updates as we learn more, but right now we know is that the cub weighed just under 100 grams and that there was no outward sign of trauma or infection. We'll share information with you as we learn more.

And we, too, will share more information as it comes in.

Update at 12:41 p.m. ET: Cub Was A Rare Surprise

As the AP notes, the cub had been a surprise at the zoo:

"Fourteen-year-old Mei Xiang had five failed pregnancies before giving birth, and only one panda cub has survived at the zoo in the past."

That would be Tai Shan, Mei Xiang's cub, born in 2005 and "repatriated" to China in 2010.

Update at 2:08 p.m. ET: 'Couldn't Have Been More Beautiful'

Zoo officials had no explanation for the cub's death at their briefing this afternoon.

"This is a very difficult time for staff and keepers and volunteers," National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly said. "This is devastating for everyone here."

The zoo is proceeding with a pathology exam to learn more about what caused the cub's death. After detailing the CPR procedures performed on the tiny little body, Chief Veterinarian Suzan Murray took a moment to share a little more:

"The other thing I'd have to say about the cub is that, as you all might imagine, the cub was just beautiful," she said. "It's a beautiful little body, a beautiful face with the markings just beginning to show around the eye – couldn't have been more beautiful."

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