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National Zoo Still Looking For Answers On Panda Cub's Death

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A file photo of female giant panda Mei Xiang from 2011. Mei's distress vocalizations Sunday, September 23 were the first indication that her cub had died, zoo officials say.
Mehgan Murphy; Smithsonian's National Zoo
A file photo of female giant panda Mei Xiang from 2011. Mei's distress vocalizations Sunday, September 23 were the first indication that her cub had died, zoo officials say.

The D.C. area and zoo officials will have to wait a bit longer to find out why the Smithsonian National Zoo's newborn giant panda died this weekend, just a week after its birth. Meanwhile, zoo staff are keeping a close eye on the mother, Mei Xiang.

The Smithsonian Zoo community is devastated over the death of the baby panda yesterday. Zoo officials discussed at a press conference this morning the preliminary results of a necropsy — an autopsy performed on an animal — done on the panda cub. More specific results from the necropsy won't be available for another one to two weeks. 

One cause of death that can be ruled out, according to Dr. Suzan Murray, the zoo's chief veterinarian, is crushing. 

"There are no external signs of trauma, which indicate it was not a crushing injury," Murray said. The initial results showed some fluid in the cub's abdomen, and some abnormal hardening of the liver, but no cause of death has not been identified. 

Zoo officials have also been closely monitoring the cub's mother. "We're on 24-hour watch for Mei, she's under close observation," said Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokesperson for the zoo, of the zoo's female giant panda, Mei Xiang. 

The female panda appeared to sleep well last night, and appeared to cradle a toy in her nest during the night, according to information released by the zoo. Once Mei Xiang's own tests come back and her health is assured, she will be able to go back to the outdoor area of the panda enclosure. 

The giant panda cub, which was born last Sunday and weighed less than 4 ounces, wasn't showing any outward signs of disease, according to zoo officials. 

Zoo staff members first learned of a problem with the cub due to distress noises made by the baby's mother. 

"The first indicator was Mei, at 9:17 a.m. They heard distressed vocalizations. It sounded like a hawk," Baker-Masson says. "The keepers heard her, knew something was wrong, so they zoomed in to try to find the cub and see what was going on, and they saw the cub was not moving."

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