The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

National Zoo welcomes panda cub, an unexpected arrival from aging Mei Xiang

Mei, at age 22, is the oldest giant panda in the United States to give birth.

Giant panda Mei Xiang rests in her den at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo with an unseen cub that was born early Friday evening. Zookeepers, who saw the birth on the Panda Cam, reported late Friday that Mei has been cradling and caring for the cub. (Smithsonian's National Zoo/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth Friday to a wiggling cub and immediately began cuddling her offspring, Washington’s National Zoo said.

The cub was born at 6:35 p.m., the zoo said in an Instagram post that announced the “joyous news.” It will take some time before the sex of the cub can be determined.

“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 vocalize.”

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.

The cub is the fourth for Mei Xiang (pronounced may-SHONG) and dad Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), who also lives at the National Zoo. Their first three offspring, Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei, were sent to China at age 4 under an agreement with the Chinese government.

“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, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “Because Mei Xiang is of advanced maternal age, we knew the chances of her having a cub were slim. However, we wanted to give her one more opportunity to contribute to her species’ survival.”

At 22, Mei Xiang is the oldest giant panda to successfully give birth in the United States. The oldest in the world gave birth in China at age 23.

Mei Xiang celebrates her “golden birthday” on July 22

Mei 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.

Giant pandas at birth are about the size of a stick of butter. They’re pink and hairless; the distinctive black and white fur markings of giant pandas come later. Cub and mom can be seen on the Panda Cam, but the number of online visitors has made the live stream unavailable at times.

More in KidsPost

Bei Bei heads to China to be part of breeding program

Bei Bei has lifesaving surgery to remove chunk of bamboo

Bao Bao leaves for China at age 4