The baby giant panda at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park was born with poorly developed lungs, which ultimately led to liver damage and then death, according to a statement released today by the zoo.
This final necropsy puts to rest a slew of other theories purporting to explain how the infant died. One concern was that 217-pound mother Mei Xiang crushed her
female cub, who weighed a little less than 100 grams.
"There were no signs of external or internal trauma, so we
are certain that didn’t happen," Pierre Comizzoli, a reproductive specialist at
the National Zoo, told Discovery News. "The mother didn’t somehow squeeze the
cub to death."
An initial necropsy performed on September 23 showed that the week-old female cub had
fluid in her abdomen and her liver was hard in places.
According to the release issued today:
Zoo staff are now working with colleagues in China "to answer questions about
giant pandas that will ensure the best care in captivity and that will
help bolster the species’ numbers in the wild. The information about how
this cub died will add to the scientific body of knowledge about giant
pandas. The zoo will continue to work closely with its Chinese
colleagues and share the information it has learned about giant panda
reproduction and cub health."
As for the adult giant pandas Mei and Tian, the zoo says no decision has been made about their future. There's apparently an agreement with China that lasts through December 5, 2015. It stipulates that the zoo will continue to conduct research on breeding and cub behavior until then. Hard to do without a cub, but I was told that Mei is still young enough to give birth again.
The mother is doing well and "is almost completely back to her old self." The zoo reports that her hormones have returned to normal levels, as has her
behavior. She's now going out in the mornings and spends most of her afternoons napping on her indoor rockwork.
She's eating well too, consuming "almost all of her bamboo and all of her leaf eater biscuits and produce."
The zoo also shares that they now have photos showing some of Mei's nesting. You can watch the time-lapse video made from the photos on the zoo's YouTube page.
(National Zoo photo of Mei)