Keepers at the Smithsonian National Zoo, who were elated to report Friday that giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub, added a sad note Saturday with the news that a second cub was stillborn.
The second birth happened at 7:29 p.m. ET, reports Pamela Baker-Masson, communications director for the zoo. Keepers watching on the zoo’s panda cam saw Mei Ziang groom the second cub for 17 minutes.
“When she stopped grooming, it fell from Mei’s body onto the floor of the den,” Baker-Masson says in an email statement released late Friday. “It lay motionless and made no sound.”
Zoo staff retrieved the stillborn cub with a grabbing device, and it became clear that the cub had developmental abnormalities and had never been alive, she says. The staff is performing a necropsy and will release more information later this morning.
“Throughout, staff could see it visually and hear the first cub squealing, and Mei never set it down,” Baker-Masson says. “Mei’s first cub continues to do well.”
It was a tragic reminder of the delicate nature of baby pandas born in captivity. Mei Xiang’s last cub, born in September 2012, died after only a few days due to lung and liver damage, devastating zoo staff members and breaking the hearts of panda-lovers everywhere.
Mei’s first cub, born Aug. 2, 2005, grew to healthy adulthood. Tai Shan, named after a vote open to the public, returned to China under an international agreement and now lives in a panda breeding facility in China.