Mother and newborn panda
Smithsonian's National Zoo via Reuters
Female giant panda Mei Xiang bonds with her newborn cub (outlined in white box) at the National Zoo in Washington on Saturday.
updated 7/10/2005 7:39:51 PM ET 2005-07-10T23:39:51

Giant panda Mei Xiang appeared to be nursing her day-old cub on Sunday, a positive sign of survival for a tiny bear susceptible to malnutrition, bacterial infection and even the lumbering of its 250-pound mother.

The National Zoo’s first panda cub in 16 years survived its initial 24 hours — a benchmark for pandas born in captivity — and continued to emit such a robust squeal that zoo officials were optimistic about the days ahead.

“Everything seems to be going fine,” zoo spokeswoman Peper Long said. “But we know that we have several more of those critical time periods to go.”

Mei Xiang and her cub, which probably weighs 3 ounces to 5 ounces, have been under round-the-clock watch at the Panda House since she gave birth early Saturday. They will remain in a den for the next three months, segregated from her mate, Tian Tian, as well as visitors to the zoo.

The Web camera at the Panda House offers an online view of mother and cub via

Tian Tian will divide his time between the outdoor yard and an air-conditioned grotto inside the Panda House. He probably is not even aware he is a father, Long said.

The two were separated once Mei Xiang, artificial inseminated four months ago, began showing signs of pregnancy and sought time away from her mate.

Five cubs born at the zoo during the lives of its first pair of pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, died within days of their births. Only two cubs born in the United States — both at the San Diego Zoo — have lived to adulthood.

“They’re so small and they’re so fragile,” Long said. “The mother is a 250-, 260-pound bear, so there’s a possibility of rolling over on it or something like that happening.”

Observing from a camera and listening to audio from the den, the zoo’s panda staff believe Mei Xiang is nursing the cub. They are prepared to intervene if suckling fails to nourish the cub, an infection develops or the cub’s health is threatened in other ways, Long said.

The first-time mother appears to be gaining confidence and settling in to caring for her offspring, Long said.

“These giant paws that are clawed and part of big-bear physiology are now picking up this very, very tiny, fragile cub and taking care of it,” she said. “We just have our fingers crossed that it keeps happening.”

The cub, whose gender is yet unknown, will not be named until it turns 100 days, a Chinese custom. Under the agreement that sent Mei Xiang, 6, and Tian Tian, 7, to the zoo in 2000, China retains ownership of any offspring. The cub likely will not be sent to China until after its second birthday, zoo officials said.

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