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Archive for Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Here’s the bear necessities on a panda cub/mom duo

August 16, 2005

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— The National Zoo's giant panda cub is 1 month old.

By now, the male cub is just over a foot long, about the size of the cub in the illustration shown above.

Zoo veterinarians gave the little fellow his first checkup last week and found he weighed 1.82 pounds, almost eight times what he weighed at birth. That's the result of all the time he has spent nursing on high-fat milk from his mother, Mei Xiang (pronounced may-SHONG). Until that first exam, the vets hadn't been in the den - they and the volunteers had been watching mom and cub on the two panda-cams that are recording every whimper and wiggle.

Mei Xiang has been nursing the baby or cuddling him under her chin or under a front leg. She leaves the den briefly for a drink or snack but rushes back when the cub squeals. She's getting good at doing two things at once: She sometimes munches bamboo while holding the cub.

¢ How does the baby panda sound? When he's upset, he squeals a bit like a guinea pig. And when he's nursing, he grunts!

¢ Newborn pandas - tiny, blind and hairless - are born 1/900th the weight of their mothers. Except for kangaroos or opossums, a baby panda is the smallest newborn mammal relative to its mother's size. (For comparison, a human baby weighs about 1/18th what her mom weighs.)

Panda fathers don't get too involved with their cubs. You'll be able to see the cub before his dad, Tian Tian (pronounced teeYEN teeYEN), does. He's in a separate part of the exhibit and won't meet his son until the cub is 18 months to 2 years old. Mei Xiang and her cub probably will go on display in October.

¢ The zoo staff is on the lookout for infection or illness, major reasons cubs born in captivity die. Many people think panda mothers have rolled onto and killed their cubs, but officials say that's very rare and has never happened at the National Zoo.

¢ Before giving birth, Mei Xiang got regular checkups. Mei Xiang likes getting stuck with a needle for blood tests, vets say, because she gets a sweet piece of pear as a reward.

¢ Why do pandas have that distinctive white-and-black fur? Some say it's good camouflage in their shade-dappled surroundings, others say it's a flashy way to show off to a potential mate. But no one knows for sure.

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