- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Veterinarians hope to get an up-close look at the National Zoo’s panda cub within a week.

Zoo officials said yesterday that new mom Mei Xiang already is leaving the nest where the cub was born July 9.

Once she is comfortable being away for a long enough time, vets will use the opportunity to go in and determine — among other things — the cub’s sex.

“We’re hoping that within the next few days to a week we’ll have the opportunity to get in there and at least do a preliminary examination,” zoo spokesman John Gibbons said.

Based on monitoring, he described the newborn as “vigorous and vocal, which are all indications of a healthy cub.”

But he cautioned against over-optimism.

“Every day that we get through with a healthy cub, we breathe a little easier. But until the cub is independent, and eating bamboo … we’re going to still be incredibly vigilant,” Mr. Gibbons said.

About the size of a stick of butter at birth, the panda is growing, but veterinarians will not estimate its current size, Mr. Gibbons said.

“She’s being a wonderful mom, and that’s one of the reasons why we don’t know the gender of the cub yet and we don’t know the exact weight and length of the cub yet. It’s because we’ve had no reason to intervene and get in there,” Mr. Gibbons said.

“She’s doing everything that she should be doing as a good giant panda mother.”

Mei Xiang — who turns 7 tomorrow — and her mate, Tian Tian, came to the National Zoo from China in December 2000, successors to the original pair given in 1972.

If the cub survives, the zoo said it likely will be sent to China.

From what veterinarians can see through cameras, the cub is starting to look more like a panda, as it changes from a pink, almost hairless baby, to one with more of the typical black-and-white pigmentation.

“That’s one of the first milestones,” Mr. Gibbons said.

“It’ll only become cuter as every day passes.”

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