Birth of panda cub brings ‘moment of pure joy’

WASHINGTON (AP) – Delivering a “much-needed moment of pure joy”, the National Zoo’s giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a wiggling cub on Friday at a time of global pandemic and social unrest.

An experienced mom, “Mei Xiang picked the cub up immediately and began cradling and caring for it”, the zoo said in a statement. “The panda team heard the cub vocalise.”

Panda lovers around the world were able to see the birth on the zoo’s Panda Cam. Zookeepers also were using the camera to keep an eye on mom and baby.

“Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and with the birth of this precious cub we are thrilled to offer the world a much-needed moment of pure joy,” said Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Monfort said Mei Xiang’s age – 22 – made her chances of giving birth to a cub slim. “However, we wanted to give her one more opportunity to contribute to her species’ survival,” he said.

She is the oldest giant panda to successfully give birth in the United States (US).

The oldest in the world gave birth in China at 23.

The zoo has re-opened to visitors on a limited basis, but the Panda House is closed. Mei Xiang gave birth in a small den, where she created a nest out of branches.

Although the place looks tiny for a big panda, the zoo said giant pandas in wild give birth in small dens. “They stay in these dens for about the cub’s first 100 days,” the zoo said on Instagram.

The zoo had given notice earlier in the day that Mei Xiang appeared to be in labour, noting her restlessness and body-licking.

In this image from video provided by the Smithsonian National Zoo, Mei Xiang is seen after giving birth to a Giant Panda cub in Washington. PHOTO: AP