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Zoologists at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, were greeted with good news on Friday, when giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a baby panda cub.
"Mom and baby are doing very well," Dr. Brandie Smith told TODAY on Saturday.
Staffers at the zoo had kept their eyes glued to Mei Xiang over the last few weeks, as she began to show signs that she might be either pregnant or experiencing pseudopregnancy (false indicators of pregnancy, which is common among pandas).
Any uncertainty was cleared up once and for all on Friday, when the zoo confirmed that not only was Mei Xiang pregnant, she had successfully given birth. Her cub came into the world today at 5:32 PM after about two hours of labor.
Some Smithsonian Zoo staff members were able to watch the news about the new cub as it happened, through the zoo’s PandaCam.
“I’m glued to the new panda cams and thrilled to hear the squeals, which appear healthy, of our newborn cub,” Dennis Kelly, the zoo’s director, said in a statement. Though the cam had been broadcasting around the clock, it was recently turned off to public viewers out of respect for Mei Xiang, though the zoo staff was able to watch it internally to monitor her condition.
Kelly reports that Mei Xiang immediately picked up the cub and began cradling it, a great sign of mama/baby bonding. Mei Xiang has given birth two times before — her first cub is now living in China, while her second sadly died shortly after birth.
Mei Xiang’s little cub is now the youngest panda in America, beating out the rare twin pandas who were born at Zoo Atlanta in July. Only four zoos in the whole country have giant pandas, which are an endangered species. Most of the world’s giant pandas are in China, their native habitat.