Malcolm Melchishua, 5, of Forestville sits on the panda statue at the National Zoo on Sunday, when zoo officials announced the death of the zoo’s 6-day-old cub. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

Last week in KidsPost we tried to answer your questions about the exciting news of the birth of a baby giant panda at the National Zoo.

Today, we’re trying to answer questions that are much harder: How and why did the unnamed panda cub died on Sunday, when it was just 61 / 2 days old.

The panda cub’s death came as a huge shock to zookeepers who had been carefully watching mother panda Mei Xiang (pronounced may SHONG) and her cub. While keepers and veterinarians hadn’t been able to examine the cub, the fact that Mei was cuddling and caring for it and that it was squawking loudly gave everyone hope that the cub was healthy and strong.

Why baby pandas die

But as we reported last week, baby pandas — and many newborn wild animals — are very fragile when they are first born. They can get infections (like a cold), or not eat enough. In July, a week-old baby panda died in Japan after its mother’s milk went into its lungs instead of its stomach. (If you’ve ever had a beverage “go down the wrong pipe,” you know what that’s like). But since newborn pandas weigh four ounces — about the size of a stick of butter — even something that seems minor can be very serious.

In the 1980s five baby pandas were born at the National Zoo but none lived longer than four days.

Jessica and Lucy Goldberg, 9, of Washington listen to the sad news at the zoo. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

On Sunday, panda keepers heard Mei cry out in an unusual way and took it to be a mother’s signal that something was wrong with the cub. While one zookeeper distracted Mei, zoo veterinarians removed the cub from the panda habitat. The cub wasn’t breathing. They tried to revive it but couldn’t.

The baby had just started to develop the beginnings of the black-and-white coloring we all associate with pandas. “The cub was just beautiful. Beautiful little body, beautiful face, with markings just beginning to show around the eye,” said Suzan Murray, the zoo’s chief veterinarian.

On Sunday evening, zookeepers did tests to help discover why the cub had died. Yesterday, they announced that the cub had unusual fluid in its belly area and maybe problems with its liver. More tests need to be done to see if these problems caused the cub’s death, zoo officials said. The cub appeared to be female, they said.

Lots of people are sad
If you’re feeling sad about this news, you’re not alone. “There’s a lot of sorrow. There’s a lot of grief,” zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said about how workers at the zoo were feeling.

People are shocked and saddened because the news was a surprise. Though panda cub deaths are common, everyone wanted to believe that Washingtonians would be able to watch this cub grow up as we had watched Mei Xiang and Tian Tian’s (pronounced tee-YEN tee-YEN) other cub, Tai Shan (pronounced tie-SHON).

If you feel sad about the death of the baby panda, you should talk to your parents or a teacher about your feelings. Or you may want to write your feelings down in a journal or a notebook. Most of all, you shouldn’t feel bad about whatever you’re feeling. Our emotions — joy, sadness, excitement, disappointment — are what make us human.

— Tracy Grant