Panda cub healthy; 2nd cub stillborn

The panda cub born Friday evening at the National Zoo is healthy and vibrant, keepers say. (Courtney Janney/Smithsonian\'s National Zoo)

WASHINGTON – The first post-natal checkup for Washington’s new celebrity – the panda cub born at the National Zoo – has had good results. Veterinarians and zookeepers at the zoo say the cub appears to be healthy.

The cub was taken briefly from its mother, Mei Xiang, to be examined on Sunday.

Dr. Suzan Murray, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, says the cub – which weighs 137 grams, or 4.8 ounces – has been squealing the way it’s supposed to.

“Heart rate is nice and steady; we can hear breath sounds in both lungs, which is great,” she says.

Getting to the cub, who is about the size of a butter stick, was not easy.

Zookeeper Marty Dearie said someone distracted Mei Xiang while he felt under her arm and eventually took the cub.

“I was able to feel the head of the cub,” he says, “slip my hand over on top, just grab a hold of it, and pull it right out.”

The cub was examined for just a few minutes and then placed back in the pen with Mei. Keeper Laurie Thompson, who had that job, says it was obvious she was distressed by the cub’s removal.

“I gently placed the cub through the bars,” she says, “and she immediately came over, settled down, picked the cub up and started grooming it and everything is happy now.”

There is also some sadness at the zoo though: A second cub, delivered 26 hours after the first, was severely deformed and stillborn.

Dr. Brandie Smith says no one witnessed that delivery, creating a few minutes of panic.

“All we saw was a cub that was not moving,” Smith says. Then they heard the squeals of the healthy cub and realized what happened.

Smith says it is a rarity for a panda to produce a cub that is so severely deformed. But officials are still elated that the first cub appears to be healthy.

It will be several weeks before they know what the new cub’s gender is.

Mei Xiang gave birth to her only surviving cub in 2005. A cub born last year died after six days.

The zookeepers say Mei Xiang and her cub will be left alone on Monday, being observed only on the Panda Cam.

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