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Newborn Panda and Mom

New Panda Cub

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Dr. Suzan Murray
Chief Veterinarian, Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Monday, July 11, 2005; 12:00 PM

The National Zoo's newborn panda cub is squealing and murmuring in apparent vigorous health, while its mother, Mei Xiang, is gaining confidence and is utterly absorbed in caring for her baby, keepers said yesterday.

Story: Squealing Panda Cub Appears Healthy as Mother Rapt in Role (Post, July 11)

Video: Giant Panda Cub Born at National Zoo (AP, July 11)

Dr. Suzan Murray , chief veterinarian at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, will be online Monday, July 11, at Noon, ET to discuss the newborn panda and mom Mei Xiang.

"While we're excited that the giant panda cub has reached the 48-hour mark, we're still cautious. A lot can happen in the coming weeks, but Mei Xiang -- the cub's mother -- is, thus far, a great mom. She's reacting to the cub exactly as we hoped she would," said Murray in a statement released by the National Zoo.

A transcript follows.

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Annandale, Va.: Dr. Murray:

This may be beyond your ken, but do you know when the National Zoo has to send the cub to China under the Panda lease and whether the Zoo has any right to make a payment to keep the cub instead of sending it to China?

Dr. Suzan Murray: Our current agreement is for the cub to return to its homeland at 2 yrs of age. At about 18 months mother and baby start to naturally spend more time apart.

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Silver Spring, Md.: How nice that the zoo keepers don't know that weight or gender of the baby, since they don't want to interfere with the bonding that is going on. Too bad the same thing is rare at your average hospital birth. Maybe we CAN learn something from zoo animals.

Dr. Suzan Murray: Thanks for your thoughts. It is very important for us not to disturb the important bonding process. Mei Xiang has already gained so much competence in caring for her cub - it has been thrilling to observe this process through monitors. We continue to learn from this process. I should also note that if there are any signs of problems we do have a team of veterinarians, technicians, keepers, curators and nutritionists available to help.

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Dr. Suzan Murray: Thank you for joining this online chat - we continue to be thrilled with how well Mei Xiang and her cub are progressing and we're happy to have this opportunity to share the news with everyone. We've passed the 48-hour mark with our cub; while we are still not out of the woods, this is something to be cautiously excited about.

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Watertown, Mass.: I was a little kid in D.C. when Ling Ling and Sing Sing were the celebrities and it always broke my heart when those cubs didn't make it. I think there are a lot of people who are really rooting for this little one to make it -- I keep looking for updates on the Internet. My heart and prayers are with all of you at the zoo.

Dr. Suzan Murray: Thank you so much. We are all rooting for this cub and we appreciate your support. Keep watching the Zoo's and Animal Planet's Web site to get updates.

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Panda City, USA: Congratulations! I read this morning that the cub is doing well after two days. Is this a good sign that the cub will survive? Why are the first two days so dangerous?

Dr. Suzan Murray: Thank you very much. Both Mei Xiang and the cub are doing well. While we are not yet out of the woods, we are very happy that things have gone well so far.

The first few days/weeks are considered dangerous because the cub is born so small (about 3-5 ounces), without fur, and depends upon Mei Xiang's ability to care for it. Since this is Mei Xiang's first pregnancy, we were unsure how she would receive the cub, and we are thrilled to see that she is such a good mother.

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Durham, N.C.: How long is panda gestation? I thought we just heard about a possible pregnancy recently? Also, what is the father's role in panda parenting? Thanks.

Dr. Suzan Murray: Panda gestation is reported to range from 90 to 135 days. This is due to a phenomenon termed "delayed implantation" where the embryo can float around the uterus for several weeks prior to implanting. Additionally, giant pandas can undergo a process called "pseudopregnancy" which mimics a true pregnancy both hormonally and behaviorally.

We have been following her hormonal pattern closely for several months and we were aware that this time period was coming to an end, but until a cub was born we were not 100 % certain that she was pregnant.

Male giant pandas are typically not involved in parenting. He is relaxing in his air-conditioned grotto unaware that he is a father.

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Old Town, Alexandria, Va.: I must say I've been delighted all morning with the amazing live streaming video of momma and baby! I keep it minimized in a small area of my monitor.

A big thank you for providing this peaceful break (from all the bad news) to all of us cubicle-bound office workers!

Dr. Suzan Murray: We too are delighted to be able to provide even more good good news about animals at the zoo. I also keep a streaming video of the pandas, and my children and I watch from home as well.

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Anonymous: If the cub becomes ill, how will Zoo vets know? And what would be the procedure for intervening? We all hope this little dickens grows up health and strong!

Dr. Suzan Murray: Thanks for your well wishes. We are monitoring the health and progress of Mei Xiang and her cub remotely. We look for things such as closeness of contact between mom and cub, strength of vocalizations and positioning of the cub on mom's body. We have a team of volunteers that provide 24 hr observations of Mei Xiang, as well as veterinarians, technicians, keepers, curators, nutritionists, and reproductive physiologists that continually review her progress. At this point she continues to progress well. If we note signs of distress we are ready to intervene.

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Washington, D.C.: Are there veterinarians from other zoos in Washington, observing and learning so that they can learn more about panda births and behavior?

Dr. Suzan Murray: No, we do not have veterinarians from other zoos visiting, but we keep in close contact by telephone and email. Learning and sharing information about panda pregnancy, parturition, and cub rearing are an integral part of zoo veterinary care and conservation.

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Washington, D.C.: Can Tian Tian hear the cub's squeals? Has he shown any interest in what's going on?

Dr. Suzan Murray: I do not know if Tian Tian can hear the cub's squeals - having said that, these squeals are very loud, strong, and vigorous - it is hard to imagine that such a small body can make such loud noises!

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Alexandria, Va.: What are the expected milestones for the baby in the next few months?

(Weight, size, abilities, etc.)

Dr. Suzan Murray: One of the important milestones is the first physical examination of the cub. This will take place once Mei Xiang is comfortable leaving the cub alone - most likely within the next several weeks.

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Fairfax, Va.: What's "partuition"?

Dr. Suzan Murray: sorry - "giving birth" :)

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Washington, D.C.: Previous cubs at the Zoo died within the first few days of birth. How will vets know if the cub is out of the "danger zone"? Is that a time period or is that determined by the cub's growth?

And will the Zoo turn on the Panda-Cam any time soon?

Dr. Suzan Murray: We will not known that the cub is out of danger for several weeks to months. This will be determined by the cub's growth, activity, and age.

The panda-cam is on - we are experiencing a lot of traffic so if you are having difficulties you may want to try Animal Planet's Web site. Have fun - its great to watch them.

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washingtonpost.com: Panda-Cam

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Arlington, Va.: With the success of two panda cubs at the San Diego Zoo and the ongoing work at Woolong Preserve in China, how much does the National Zoo team work with their teams to ensure the best for this cub?

Dr. Suzan Murray: Yes, our team works very closely with the San Diego team and our Chinese colleagues. We keep in touch by email and telephone to share all information learned. In addition, the National Zoo Team is very active in conservation projects in China. A number of our staff, including myself, have traveled to China to share information and learn about these incredible animals.

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Washington, D.C.: With new cheetah cubs and now a panda baby, how excited is the Zoo staff? Are they tired from keeping watch 24 hours a day?

Dr. Suzan Murray: Although we are exhausted, we are also exhilarated. These successes show what a great zoo this is and how well we pool our expertise to provide the best in animal care.

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Washington, D.C.: Fellow Smithsonian employee here (don't tell them I'm online chatting!) You said, "We look for things such as closeness of contact between mom and cub, strength of vocalizations and positioning of the cub on mom's body"

Can you tell us more, please? Where on her body is a favorable place for the little one to be positioned? She never seems to let go of it that is for sure and when I was watching the video stream early this morning it looked like she had the cub in her mouth! Is that typical?

By the way, it seemed like every time Mom had a chance to stretch out and really get some peaceful sleep in baby would wake her up. Geez just like human babies!

Dr. Suzan Murray: The cub spends most of its time on Mei Xiang's upper body (close to the nipples for nursing). You are correct that she never seems to let go of it - this is a good sign. I also agree that every time Mei Xiang tries to take a nap the cub wakes her up - but she seems to be getting the hang of multi-tasking.

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Washington, D.C.: Congratulations to all the keepers and staff!

I know that Animal Planet and Fuji Film have helped finance the Panda House and provided funds for the care of the pandas. Are there plans for a documentary about the new cub?

Dr. Suzan Murray: Yes, we are very thankful for the support we have received from both Animal Planet and Fujifilm. Animal Planet is making a documentary - I don't know when that will be finished - but they've been covering our pandas since their arrival and we're very thankful. Fuji film has also been an incredible support and is helping us with the Giant Panda habitat of Asia Trail.

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Dr. Suzan Murray: Thank you everyone for writing in, I need to leave to go back to work. We appreciate your interest and continued support of this great zoo. Stay tuned on our Web site. Thanks again, Suzan

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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