By Mary Bubala

WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Sadness at Washington’s National Zoo. The baby panda died Sunday.

Mary Bubala reports there’s new information about what went wrong.

Noise from mother panda Mei Xiang caught on the zoo’s pandacam Sunday alerted officials something wasn’t right. Within hours, they confirmed the news: the zoo’s 1-week-old female cub had died.

“This is devastating for all of us here. It’s hard to describe how much passion and energy and thought and care has gone into this,” said Zoo Director Dennis Kelly.

Similar to its birth, the cub’s death was unexpected. All signs pointed to a caring mother and a healthy and vocal newborn.

“The cub was just beautiful. Beautiful little body, beautiful face with the markings just beginning to show around the eye,” said Suzan Murray, the zoo’s chief veterinarian.

When vets examined the cub, they found no signs of trauma but the 6-day-old cub had liver abnormalities and fluid in its abdomen. But the zoo still doesn’t know why the cub died.

Typically in a cub’s first two weeks of life, its mortality rate is around 18 percent. Other cubs have died at the zoo.

Tourists reacted to the news.

“We were just really sad when we heard. We came up to the panda area and they told us about the baby and we all really felt sad about it,” said a tourist.

“That’s why we came all the way from Baltimore, to come see the baby. I’m a little sad, being a mother,” said another.

As tourists looked on, Mei Xiang came out. Vets say she is again interacting with them. She was cradling a plastic toy.

Zoo officials said it was too early to know if they would again attempt to breed her again next year but the breeding program at the zoo will continue.

Breeding pandas is difficult. Mei Xiang had five failed pregnancies before becoming pregnant through artificial insemination.


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