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National Zoo's Giant Panda Gives Birth To Cub, Third Since 2005

The National Zoo's giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub at 5:32 p.m. on Friday.
Photo via the National Zoo's Panda Cam
The National Zoo's giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub at 5:32 p.m. on Friday.

It's the pitter patter of panda cub paws! Mei Xiang, the National Zoo's giant panda, gave birth to a cub at 5:32 p.m. on Friday.

According to the National Zoo, Mei Xiang's water broke and she went into labor on Friday afternoon, a process that was expected to take up to 10 hours. But less than two hours later, a cub was born. Mei Xiang promptly cradled the cub, which began "vocalizing"—the high-pitch yelping made by cubs.

“I’m glued to the new panda cams and thrilled to hear the squeals, which appear healthy, of our newborn cub,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, in a statement. “Our expansive panda team has worked tirelessly analyzing hormones and behavior since March, and as a result of their expertise and our collaboration with scientists from around the world we are celebrating this birth.”

The birth is the third to Mei Xiang since 2005, when she gave birth to Tai Shan, who was affectionately known as "Butterstick" after his size at birth. A second cub was born in 2012, but died after only a week due to liver and lung damage. Mei Xiang has also suffered five failed pregnancies.

Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated in March, using sperm taken from fellow National Zoo panda Tian Tian and a panda from San Diego. Artificial insemination has become the go-to method for impregnating Mei Xiang, as Tian Tian has been seen as an unreliable partner.

Zoo officials announced in late July that her urinary progesterone had spiked, indicating that she could give birth to another panda cub within 40 to 55 days. Volunteer behavior watchers started monitoring Mei Xiang via panda cams all day and night on Aug. 7. At the time, keepers said Mei Xiang was very lethargic, eating less and shredding bamboo for her nest. Zoo officials said that pandas sometimes cradle and groom their toys ahead of a birth.

Panda procreation is intensely studied by scientists across the world, though it remains somewhat mysterious. In late 2011 philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $4.5 million to support the National Zoo's efforts at producing new panda cubs.

According to the zoo, scientists employed a new test developed at the Memphis Zoo to narrow the window of when she would either give birth or end the period of pregnancy symptoms, known as a pseudopregnancy.

Zoo officials say they will leave Mei Xiang with her cub until she indicates that it's safe to approach and check on the cub. She is expected to remain in her den for up to two weeks. The zoo's Panda House will remain closed to the public for the near future.

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