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Newborn giant panda cub dies at the National Zoo

9:11 AM, Sep 24, 2012   |    comments
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The National Zoo's week-old giant panda cub died of unknown causes this morning.

Zoo officials say the cub was found dead after panda keepers heard sounds of distress from its mother, Mei Xiang.

MORE: Panda cub seen at National Zoo

Veterinarians retrieved the cub for an evaluation about an hour later and immediately performed CPR and other lifesaving measures, the zoo said.

"Sadly the cub was unresponsive," the zoo said. The cub weighed just less than 100 grams and showed no outward signs of trauma or infection.

MORE: Giant panda gives birth to cub at National Zoo

"We are brokenhearted to share that we have lost our little giant panda cub," the zoo said.

Panda experts have said the first weeks of life are critical for the panda cubs as mothers have to make sure they stay warm and get enough to eat.

"It's kind of a nerve-racking period for the folks that are monitoring mom and cub," Rebecca Snyder, the curator of mammals at Atlanta's zoo, said last week. Atlanta is one of only two other American zoos to have had cubs.

Panda cubs are born about the size of a stick of butter and are delicate infants. Panda mothers are about 1,000 times heavier than their cubs, which are born with their eyes closed. The delicate cubs have died in the past when accidentally crushed by mom. That happened in two different zoos in China in 2009 and 2010 when mothers killed their young while attempting to nurse.

The National Zoo's cub was the second born to giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian as the result of artificial insemination.

Mei Xiang has had five consecutive false pregnancies since 2007 and had a less than 10% chance of being pregnant after so many failed attempts.

The cub was born at 10:46 p.m. Sept. 16. Vets at the National Zoo observed Mei Xiang and her cub on a Web cam and had not touched the cub until today, so the mother would raise her cub naturally.

Chief veterinarian Suzan Murray said last week that Mei Xiang was behaving exactly as she had when her first cub, Tai Shan, was born.

"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," Murray said. "She is the poster child for a perfect panda mom."

Officials were following a Chinese custom to wait 100 days before naming the cub. Had the cub survived, it would have been named Dec. 24. At 100 days old, it would have been roughly the size of a loaf of bread and weighed about 10 pounds.

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