The baby was then whisked to the keepers’ office in the panda compound where veterinarian Nancy Boedeker used her fingers to do gentle heart massage on an animal that weighed about four ounces.
But there was no heartbeat and no respiration, and after about 10 minutes Boedeker stopped. The zoo’s giant panda cub, born amid hope and fanfare Sept. 16, was pronounced dead at 10:28 a.m., after a life of not quite 61
Somber zoo officials on Sunday painted this portrait of the cub’s final moments, along with the effort of keepers and veterinarians to save its life.
The cub’s sudden death struck the zoo community on a beautiful fall morning, as the facility on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington was thronged with visitors. The staff was “devastated,” zoo director Dennis Kelly said. (Update: National Zoo: newborn panda cub had liver abnormalities, and fluid in abdomen)
“I’m worried about my keepers,” he said. “They’ve got 2,000 animals to take care of, and they’ve got to remain safe.”
And it upended, for now, all the plans for a new era of giant pandas at the National Zoo and in the Washington region. Zoo officials said it was too early to discuss what they might do about their pandas in the future.
The zoo’s giant panda population stands at two: Mei Xiang, the cub’s mother, and mate Tian Tian, its father. The cub was so small that the zoo did not yet know its sex.
“Distressed vocalizations” from Mei Xiang were heard at about 9:17 a.m. Sunday, and keepers realized “this is not right, this is not good,” zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said.
Kelly said Mei Xiang “got up and moved off of where she was holding the cub, and made a honk,” which was unusual for her. “We surmised that that was a distress call,” he said.
The keepers also had stopped hearing the cub’s healthy squealing, which had gone on for a week and was a sign of a thriving newborn.
Emergency protocols were activated, and within minutes a team of four keepers and two veterinarians had assembled in the keepers’ office in the panda house.
The effort to extract the cub from the den was delicate. “[Mei Xiang] is a 240-pound wild bear with maternal instincts,” Kelly said. “And she’s upset.”
First the keepers tried calling Mei Xiang to get her out of the den, but that didn’t work, zoo officials said.
Then Dearie and Rodriguez entered an area adjacent to the den, where they were protected by bars but could reach the cub if they could distract the mother.
Dearie did so by splashing honey water near her, and at about 10:15 a.m. Rodriquez got the cub.