Washington’s National Zoo celebrated the birth of two panda cubs, but now they are in mourning. Concerns were raised by zoo keepers around 2 p.m. Wednesday after one of the cubs started suffering from respiratory difficulty—it then died shortly after.
“The smaller cub was with Mei Xiang from about 2 p.m. yesterday, Aug. 25, until this morning. When the panda team swapped the cubs this morning, they assessed the little cub and had concerns because it had not increased in weight, appeared weaker, and exhibited possible respiratory issues,” the zoo said in a statement.
We are sad to report that the smaller of the two panda cubs has died. We will continue to provide updates on social media w/ #Pandastory.
— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) August 26, 2015
The zoo explained in a press conference on Periscope that they were regularly swapping the cubs between the incubator and their mother, Mei Xiang. The keepers administered antibiotics and provided respiratory support, but the cub’s condition declined and it eventually passed away.
The zoo said that Mei Xiang had shown signs that she was struggling to care for both cubs. But she had shown no indication that she had a preference for one cub over the other.
It is not uncommon for giant panda mothers to only to be able to care for one cub at a time.
The zoo keepers will continue to watch over Mei Xiang and her larger cub using the Panda Cams. The “cub appears to be strong and robust, and that it is behaving normally, urinating, and defecating. At the last weigh-in, the cub weighed 137.7 grams,” the zoo said.
Despite these encouraging signs, the team continues to closely monitor both Mei Xiang and her cub around the clock, as the cub is still vulnerable, and the risk remains high, the zoo added.
In a statement from PETA, President Ingrid Newkirk wrote: “From the moment that the first panda was born, the newborns were handled by humans and turned this way and that under the glaring camera lights. It was inevitable that the poor little cub was too unthrifty to survive, but in nature the mother would not have manipulated him, force-fed him, and treated him like an exhibit.”