- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2013

Giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on Friday afternoon and then delivered a stillborn cub on Saturday, officials said.

Zoo officials said the birth on Friday occurred at 5:32 p.m. The team monitoring the panda heard the cub vocalize and saw it briefly immediately after the birth. They said Mei Xiang picked up the cub and immediately began cradling and caring for it.

Behavior watchers have been monitoring her 24 hours a day since Aug. 7 via the panda cams. The team began preparing for a birth when they saw her water break around 3:36 p.m. and she began having contractions, officials said.

Mei Xiang started spending extended amounts of time body licking and cradling her toys Aug. 11, all signs that she could give birth.

While crucial to zoo conservation efforts, inducing panda pregnancy is tricky.

Since 2005, Mei has been bred nine times, sometimes with a mate and other times by artificial insemination. Of those, seven attempts did not result in a cub, and an attempt last year resulted in a cub that died about a week after its birth. Only one attempt was successful. In 2005, Mei gave birth to a male cub named Tai Shan. The panda became a D.C. celebrity and lived at the zoo for five years before he was moved to a new home in China in 2010.

PHOTOS: Mei Xiang gives birth to baby panda at National Zoo

Scientists speculated earlier this month that she could be pregnant, saying Mei Xiang was experiencing hormone changes and showing increasingly obvious behavioral shifts. Mei was artificially inseminated twice March 30 after natural breeding attempts with the zoo’s male panda, Tian Tian, were unsuccessful.

To prevent another cub death like last year, zoo officials have said they would follow a series of protocols regarding how officials monitor the cub. Keepers might take the cub from the mother if they see a risk, such as the mother inadvertently rolling onto and crushing it. The panda house is currently closed, and the cub is expected to stay indoors for some time.

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