Baby Panda Dies At National Zoo

Tiny cub, big heartbreak.
One of the two baby pandas born at the National Zoo in Washington on Saturday.
One of the two baby pandas born at the National Zoo in Washington on Saturday.

Well, this is heartbreaking: One of two baby pandas born on Saturday at the National Zoo has died.

The smaller of the two cubs died on Wednesday shortly after 2 p.m., the zoo said in a news statement

The larger cub "appears to be strong, robust, behaving normally and is with mother Mei Xiang," the statement read.

Zoo employees had been trying to regularly allow each cub to nurse and get individual attention from its mother while the zoo's staff cared for the other one, but they weren't always successful. Mei was reportedly reluctant to give up the bigger cub for some time.

The little one had been with its mother from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning, but staff noticed that the cub had "not increased in weight, appeared weaker and exhibited possible respiratory issues."

Zoo staff gave the panda antibiotics, fluids and formula, along with respiratory support, but couldn't save its life.

The smaller cub weighed just 79.8 grams, .19 pounds, at the time of its death. By contrast, its larger sibling weighed 137.7 grams, or .3 pounds, at its last weigh-in. The zoo says the larger cub appears to be doing well, but "is still vulnerable and the risk remains high."

Panda babies are almost impossibly small and fragile when they are born. Scientists believe their small size is an evolutionary adaptation to the giant panda's diet, which consists almost entirely of bamboo and doesn't provide much nutrition. It's more efficient for mother pandas to feed their infants with milk than to stay pregnant longer and grow bigger babies.

According to the zoo, about 1 in 4 male pandas and 1 in 5 female pandas dies in its first year.

The zoo says it will perform an autopsy on the baby panda, and results should be available in a few weeks.

And, because you now deserve to see something cheerful and hopeful, here's a video of Mei with one of her babies on Monday:

This story has been updated with additional information about the baby panda's death and more comments from National Zoo officials. 


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