- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Male lions have manes. Male peacocks have colorful feathers. But how can you tell whether a giant panda is a boy or a girl?

“There are no specific markings,” said Lisa Stevens, assistant curator for the National Zoo’s panda collection. A close look at the panda’s anatomy is the only way to determine its sex.

Miss Stevens and her veterinarian colleagues got just such a view yesterday morning, when the zoo determined that its 3-week-old panda — only the 10th giant panda in the country — was a boy.

Not that the zoo had a preference.

“We’re excited to have a healthy panda cub,” Miss Stevens said. “It doesn’t matter what its sex is — just it’s good to know, so we know whether to call it a ‘he’ or a ‘she.’”

Miss Stevens said the panda’s mother, 6-year-old Mei Xiang, doesn’t care whether she had a son or a daughter, either.

Giant panda mothers dote on their cubs with equal fervor, regardless of their sex. Mei Xiang cuddles her still-nameless little bundle of black-and-white fur almost 24 hours a day.

That makes it hard for the zoo’s staff to get the cub out of his mother’s embrace for examinations, Miss Stevens said. She said the staff moved in for the examination yesterday when Mei Xiang left the den on her own to snack on some bamboo. Until then, zoo officials were only able to view the cub through a camera in the animals’ den.

Zoo veterinarians quickly weighed the animal — it’s under 2 pounds — and established that it was healthy. They also determined the cub’s sex by looking at panda photos sent by Chinese experts. Veterinarians in China, which has 160 pandas in zoos and breeding centers, have more experience determining the animals’ sex.

The National Zoo’s veterinarians limited their examination to nine minutes, because they did not want to keep Mei Xiang and her cub separated too long.

“When you have to get in and do a cub exam, it’s very exiting, and you’re trying to do all this in as short a time as possible,” Miss Stevens said. “It was just nice to have this sturdy, solid little cub in my hands.”

Mei Xiang and her cub are not expected to be on exhibit for at least three months while they continue to bond.

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