July 31, 2012 at 1:31 PM ET
A panda at the San Diego Zoo gave birth to a record-breaking sixth cub on Sunday afternoon, setting the mark for the most cubs born to a panda in a facility outside of China.
At 2 p.m. on Sunday, a 20-year-old panda named Bai Yun gave birth to a 100-gram cub, which emerged “with a loud squawk,” according to zoo researchers.
“Bai Yun was in a seated position when the cub emerged, and it never even touched the ground before she had it in her embrace,” Suzanne Hall, senior zoo research technician, said in a post on the zoo’s website. “Bai Yun immediately comforted and consoled the cub, and it settled down quickly.”
The zoo will follow Chinese tradition and wait to name the panda until 100 days after its birth. The cub’s gender will not be known for several months and it may not be on public display at the zoo until December, researchers said.
The cub is currently pink and the size of a stick of butter. It will begin turning black and white in about a month, zoo officials said.
Researchers, veterinarians, and zookeepers observed the birthing den from the Giant Panda Research Center via a closed-circuit camera.
“For giant pandas the first week of life is a very tenuous period,” Megan Owen, a San Diego Zoo conservation program manager, told NBCNews.com. “We will watch her very, very closely in the first week. We have never had to do anything with Bai Yun [during her previous pregnancies].”
The cub seems healthy based on the noises it is making, according to Owen, who has been part of the panda team for the birth of all six of Bai Yun’s cubs.
The cub is assessed based on its vocalization through the microphone in the birthing den. The squawk they heard was normal after birth, signaling the baby is uncomfortable. They soon heard a croak, which means the cub feels comforted by its mother. The team said the cub is healthy and will examine it firsthand once Bai Yun is comfortable to leave it alone.
“Once she begins to leave the den to drink water and eat bamboo and take a time outside of the den, we will take advantage of that to do the exam,” Owen said.
The 20-year-old mother is the second oldest panda to give birth at the zoo, so the zoo is prepared in case there were any issues. Since panda pregnancy length is highly variable, researchers said they used thermal imaging and ultrasound technology to monitor the status of the baby so the panda team could be ready when Bai Yun went into labor.
“Despite the lengthy labor and the concerns we all had about the impact her age might have on her ability to sustain a pregnancy, Bai Yun has once again shown us that she is indeed, a hero mother,” Hall said.
Watch video of mama bear cuddling her cub: