The National Zoo’s six-week-old panda cub doesn’t yet have teeth, open eyes, or even a name. But the veterinarians who examined him for 14 minutes Thursday said he’s already made some serious developmental strides since his birth.
“It’s gone from this pink hairless glob into this white-and-black striped adorable cub,” said Suzan Murray, the zoo’s chief veterinarian. “It’s amazing that anything could grow so large so fast.”
The vets weighed and measured the cub born July 9. They found it had more than doubled its weight to over four pounds and grown from 12 to 17 inches in about two weeks. And they listened to its heart and lungs, which also seemed to be in good shape.
“He really is just a gorgeous, amazing little creature,” Murray said.
Still, she said, the zoo’s veterinarians are stuck doing a lot of guesswork. This is only the United States’ fourth — and the National Zoo’s first — panda cub to live more than a few days after being born in captivity, so few veterinarians know what milestones to look for as the cubs age.
That’s why checkups like Thursday’s serve the dual purpose of assuring the cub’s health, and adding to what veterinarians know about panda development, Murray said. The information they are gathering will help future attempts to raise pandas at U.S. zoos.
“Any information we get, we’re going to be sharing with the panda community,” Murray said.
The panda’s handlers are now waiting to see how long it takes for his eyes and ears to open, and for its teeth to grow in, so it can report that data to other zoos too, Murray said. Until then, the veterinarians are delighted by the animal’s continuing health.
“The most major milestone is that he’s still very alert, active, and still gaining a lot of weight,” she said.