New Baby Panda Born At National Zoo After 5 False Alarms
By Roxanne Palmer | September 18, 2012 2:20 AM EST
What's black and white and less than a day old? The newest giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., of course!
Zoo officials can only examine the cub via webcam -- they still do not even know what sex the baby panda is. Members of the public can watch video of the baby panda's progress at the National Zoo website.
Mei Xiang, a 14-year-old female whose name is Chinese for "beautiful fragrance," gave birth to a cub late Sunday night, according to the zoo. The cub is her second with the male Tian Tian. The panda couple's first cub, a male named Tai Shan, was born in 2005 and currently resides at a panda breeding facility in China.
Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated with sperm from Tian Tian in April after she and Tian Tian weren't able to mate. Scientists still aren't exactly sure why pandas have such trouble mating in captivity, but the stress of captivity may play a role. Panda females also have a very narrow window to conceive: about one to three days, once a year.
In early September, the zoo began watching Mei Xiang closely for signs that she was about to give birth, after she began exhibiting symptoms of panda pregnancy -- building a nest in her den and cradling toys, according to the Washington Post.
The zoo wasn't sure if this was the real deal. Mei Xiang has shown similar signs of pregnancy five times since 2007, all of which turned out to be false alarms.
This time, zoo experts pegged Mei Xiang's chances of conceiving at less than 10 percent, according to the Smithsonian Science blog.
But it turns out that the odds may have been with Mei Xiang this time, thanks to an adjustment to her reproductive cycle. This year, she became sexually receptive in April, a more normal time for pandas to go into heat, whereas in previous years she had entered estrus in January.
Early signs seem to indicate the new panda mom is attentive.
"She is cradling her cub closely, and she looks so tired, but every time she tries to lay down, the cub squawks and she sits right up and cradles the cub more closely," chief veterinarian Suzan Murray said in a statement. "She is the poster child for a perfect panda mom."
Mei Xiang's new cub will not be officially named until Christmas Day, when it is 100 days old, in accordance with Chinese tradition. The Washington Post is soliciting suggestions on Twitter, under the hashtag #namethepanda, while Smithsonian magazine is collecting possible names on its Facebook page. Some suggestions thus far include: Christopher, in honor of Ambassador Chris Stevens, recently slain in Libya, Oreo, Liberty and Ron Burgundy.
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