There’s a new bundle of joy at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. It’s an adorable baby panda! The cub was born last month to mom Mei Xiang (may she-ong). The cub is now starting to develop the black-and-white coat that giant pandas are known for.
Zookeepers say that Mei Xiang is taking good care of her infant. “She’s doing an excellent job,” Marty Dearie, a caretaker of giant pandas at the zoo, told Scholastic News Online. “This is her third time raising a cub, so she’s an experienced mother.”
The cub was tiny when it was born. It was about the size of a stick of butter. Its mom, in comparison, is about 900 times larger. Caring for such a small creature can be tough—especially because a newborn panda cub can’t see or hear for the first few months of its life.
Mei Xiang actually had two cubs—twin males. Unfortunately, one of the cubs died shortly after it was born. This is not uncommon when a panda gives birth to twins—especially in the wild. Zookeepers made special efforts to help Mei Xiang care for both of her young. But one of the cubs became too weak and sick to survive.
SAVING A SPECIES
Making sure the zoo’s newest addition remains healthy is a top priority. Giant pandas, which are native to China, are an endangered species (a group of animals in danger of dying out). “There are only about 1,800 pandas left in the wild,” Dearie says.
The pandas at the National Zoo are part of a conservation (nature protection) partnership between the U.S. and China. Cubs born at the zoo are sent to China when they are fully grown. Once in China, the pandas take part in a breeding program. Some of their offspring (babies) may be returned to the wild to boost the panda population, Dearie says.
In keeping with Chinese tradition, the new cub likely won’t have a name for a few months. Babies in China usually aren’t named until they are 100 days old. The last time Mei Xiang had a baby, in 2013, the National Zoo allowed people to suggest names online. Bao Bao (pronounced bow bow), the name that was chosen, means “precious” or “treasure” in Mandarin Chinese.