Precious panda pair born at the Smithsonian National Zoo

Giant Panda

Two of the world’s most beloved creatures, giant pandas were born Saturday night at the National Zoo and Aquarium in Washington D.C. Keepers are providing care to both cubs along with allowing them to spend time with their mother Mei Xiang (May-Shong) which should give them the best hopes of survival.

Keepers had been on the lookout for a birth after detecting a foetus on an August 19th ultrasound. This was a rare occurrence as normally Mei Xiang does not participate in ultrasounds during the last weeks of the pregnancy.

Giant Panda


Mei Xiang’s water broke at 4.32pm and then keepers begun to observe contractions. Both cubs were born live on the zoo’s panda cam with their first being born at 5:35pm followed by its twin at 10:07pm.

Giant pandas give birth to twins on 50% of occasions. It is rare that both will survive though but keepers believe that these two will survive with their help. They will involve them leaving one cub with Mei Xiang while they keep another in an incubator and bottle feed it.

Giant Panda

Following the birth of the first cub Zoo Director, Dennis Kelly said, “All of us are thrilled that Mei Xiang has given birth. The cub is vulnerable at this tiny size but we know Mei is an excellent mother. Thank you to all of our excellent keepers, veterinarians, researchers and Chinese colleagues who contributed and therefore deserve credit for this conservation success.”

The first cub taken was the second cub who was born weighing in at 138g. It’s weight dropped to 132.4g overnight following his first urination and defecations which are healthy signs. He also feed three times at 2.20am, 3.40am and 5am receiving 40% of the serum which keepers had for him. Keepers consider this to be a success. It received the antibodies which it needs after it did not nurse from Mei Xiang. He can be distinguished now as a result of a green food colouring spot on the left hip.

By 6.30am this morning they had been able to conduct a successful swap and check on the second cub. It will return to Mei Xiang soon so will receive no food from keepers. When keepers pulled him it weighed 86.3g.

When the cubs are ready to receive food it will come from a recipe developed by the zoo’s expert nutritionist. They have are one of the only zoos to have one of these on staff. It includes a mix of human baby formula, puppy formula and water.

Giant Panda


Keepers will be taking their lead from Mei Xiang on whether she will allow them to swap the cubs over. It is hoped that she will and they will both receive the benefit of nursing from both the keepers and mum. Eventually the cubs will be placed together but it is unknown when this will occur.

These cubs are the result of an artificial insemination procedure conducted on April 26 and 27. There is the possibility that these cubs were born to a panda in China known as Hui Hui whose semen was flown from China to be used in the procedure. This would be a boost for the captive population as he is Mei Xiang’s best genetic match.

Otherwise the father would be Tian Tian who currently lives at the zoo.

Mei Xiang will spend some time off exhibit as she is especially sensitive to noise during pregnancy. She remains visible on the zoo’s panda cam which has been so popular that it has been catching. You can watch the cam here – Panda Cam

Giant Panda

Unfortunately the birth has overshadowed the birthday of the cubs sister Bao Bao. She celebrated with a frozen fruitsicle cake and special birthday enrichment oblivious to all of the excitement surrounding her family.

Giant Panda

You can share your excitement about the birth using #PandaStory Check back at for rolling coverage of all your panda twin news.

UPDATE: The first panda cub underwent its first exam and was declared healthy by vets. It is also vocalising well. The current plan is to swap the cubs every three hours

UPDATE: Overnight the team of keepers caring for the cubs attempted their planned 11pm cub swap but Mei Xiang was unco-operative. This meant that the smaller cub spent the night with the dedicated keeping team who bottle fed it. This was a success but they also conducted a tube feed as they were not sure it was eating enough. Luckily come 7:05am that morning Mei Xiang allowed a swap to occur.

Keep checking back for more updates as the cubs get through their all important first week.

UPDATE: The panda team faced another tough day on Monday with Mei Xiang not prepared to separate from the larger cub after 2pm. As time progressed they began more intense management of the smaller cub, who they were caring for at the time, providing it food and water through both tube and bottle feeds to help deal with its fluctuating weight and ensure it gets enough nutrients. It is also receiving an electrolyte replacer to help stop it from dehydrating.

Currently their focus is to keep it hydrated and to stop a respiratory infection developing. This can happen in young animals as a result of regurgitating and then aspirating their food. Currently their is no sign that this has occurred.Giant Panda

The larger cub appears to be doing well with mum and efforts continue to swap to get them through the high risk period in the best way possible.

Staff from Zoo Atlanta who successfully raised their own pair of panda twins in 2013 along with additional veterinary staff have joined the experience team of keepers from the Smithsonian National Zoo to help the team through this period.

UPDATE: Today we have the sad duty to inform you that smaller of the twins passed away at 2pm yesterday. You can read our full update on this and the circumstances involved here – A sad announcement in the National Zoo’s panda story | The Animal Facts

Giant Panda

Luckily the larger cub is going well with mum Mei Xiang but keepers are keeping a close eye on it as it remains in the high risk phase of its development.

UPDATE: The zoo announced that their surviving cub is a male and was fathered by the zoo’s resident male, Tien Tien. You can find out more about the method’s used to determine his gender here – It’s a boy. Scientists announce the gender of giant panda cup | The Animal Facts.

UPDATE: The 29th of August saw panda mum, Mei Xiang eat for the first time since she gave birth. To achieve this she had to put the cub down for a short time giving those watching the zoo’s panda cam a view of the black markings which are now starting to pattern his back, ears and eyes.

UPDATE: August 31st saw Mei Xiang succumb to the allure of her second meal which was some dilute apple juice. She also left the cub in the den so she could go outside to urinate and defecate. Over the next few days it is believed that the cub will be left alone for longer.

Giant Panda

Panda cub photos Pamela Baker-Masson, Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Except bottom cub photo Shellie Pick, Smithsonian’s National Zoo
And Panda Cam Photo: Smithsonian National Zoo

Bao Bao’s birthday photos Jim and Pam Jenkins, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Ultrasound photo Smithonian’s National Zoo

By Cale Russell is a testament to Cale’s commitment to the education of people around the world on the topic of animals and conservation, through the sharing of topical and newsworthy information.

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