Tiny giant panda twin cub dies four days after birth at National Zoo

Just days after giant panda Mei Xiang delighted everyone by delivering two cubs, the new mother is now coping with the loss of one of her twins.

The cubs were born on Aug. 22 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and have been rotated between their mother and the facility’s “panda team” ever since to give them the best shot at life. Mei Xiang was having trouble caring for both cubs, but wasn’t playing favourites, the zoo said. And, researchers have found that panda mothers are better at caring for one cub at a time, which is why they stepped in with bottle feeding and an incubator.

The smaller of the two unnamed cubs was with Mei Xiang from about 2 p.m. Aug. 25 until the morning of Aug. 26 when the panda team went in to swap the cubs.

“They assessed the little cub and had concerns because it had not increased in weight, appeared weaker and exhibited possible respiratory issues. The panda team immediately began taking actions to improve the condition of the smaller cub. They administered antibiotics, respiratory support, formula and fluids,”  the zoo said in a statement.

The cub, just 79.8 grams in size, died that afternoon.  A necropsy should help determine what killed the 4-day-old panda. But the mortality rate for panda cubs is high. About 26 per cent for males and 20 per cent for female in their first year in human care.


While twins happen in about 50 per cent of panda pregnancies, this was only the third time a giant panda in the United States had given birth to twins, according to the facility.

The panda team said it continues around-the-clock monitoring of Mei Xiang and the larger cub, which weighs 1377 grams. So far, the cub appears to be “strong and robust” and is behaving normally, and, well, urinating and defecating.

Still, the cub is considered vulnerable and at high risk.


Mei Xiang has not been a willing participant in the panda team’s efforts to switch the cubs since 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon. She has the larger cub in her possession. The panda team is caring for the smaller cub and will continue efforts to swap the cubs about every four hours. However, because the smaller cub has been away from Mei, the panda team is now managing it more intensely. The little cub’s behaviors are good. The team is concerned about its fluctuating weight since the cub is now more than 48 hours old. The most important thing for the panda team is to help the cub get enough fluids and nutrients. To accomplish this, they are bottle and tube feeding the cub. The cub has shown some signs of regurgitation which can lead to aspiration in such a tiny creature. To be prudent, the veterinarians are administering antibiotics to prevent possible infection. It’s very important to keep the cub hydrated so they are alternating an infant electrolyte solution with formula and administering fluids under the skin. The cub is urinating and defecating well. The veterinarians have not seen any sign of respiratory distress. Our observations of the larger cub from yesterday indicate it is doing well and we’re confident Mei Xiang is taking very good care of it. We remain in a high-risk period. We’ve received a lot of questions about the tiny size of the panda cubs. Bear cubs have the smallest infant-to-mother size ratio of any placental mammal at approx. 1 to 700. Mei Xiang currently weighs about 238 pounds. One of the cubs weighed 86 grams at birth, a 1 to 1,256 ratio of cub to mom. The larger cub weighed 138 grams at birth, a 1 to 783 ratio of cub to mom. Asia Trail keepers (who successfully hand-reared a sloth bear named Remi last year), additional veterinarian staff and a panda keeper from Zoo Atlanta have been well integrated into the panda team. The entire Zoo community appreciates the outpouring of well-wishes from around the world. #PandaStory #WeSaveSpecies #InstaScience A photo posted by Smithsonian’s National Zoo (@smithsonianzoo) on

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