August 7, 2009

San Diego Giant Panda Successfully Gives Birth

Famous San Diego Zoo panda Bai Yun had her fifth cub following a 130-day pregnancy that zookeepers said ended with an easy delivery.

The cub became just the 14th panda born in the US, including five that live in San Diego. Prior to the birth, the mother bathed herself, moved onto her back and grabbed her hind legs.

"We saw a contraction and then about five seconds later, we just heard a wailing cry of the cub. ... It was a very vocal cub, it was like whoa. ... It's got a really good set of lungs," veterinarian Dr. Meg Sutherland-Smith announced at a news conference.

"She really had, I think, a very pleasant labor, not that I would know, but she didn't have seemingly as much discomfort or moving about as what we've seen in the past," she said.

Bai Yun appeared happy with the cub and began nursing 30 minutes after the birth.

"She knows she's been there, done that," Sutherland-Smith said.

The newborn panda weighed 4 ounces. Its gender remains unknown for a few weeks, until officials can take a closer look, and will remain nameless for 100 days, following Chinese tradition.

Mom and cub will enjoy their privacy for four months, but they will be viewed on the zoo's Panda Cam, which can be seen online.

Bai Yun was born in China and moved to San Diego in 1996.

The zoo revealed last week that Bai Yun was expecting a baby, due to ultrasound tests performed on the 300 lb animal. The father is longtime partner Gao Gao, who is the dad of Bai Yun's other cubs.

The amount of cubs makes the couple one of the most reproductively thriving couples in the history of captivity.

Pandas are infamously unlucky breeders, which is a reason that their species remains endangered. Females are fertile only three days a year, and just 1,600 giant pandas are alive in the wild. Two-hundred are housed in captivity, noted the zoo's conservation program specialist, Megan Owen.

Bai Yun and Gao Gao only mate a few days a year. When Bai Yun begins her brief fertile period, zookeepers place Gao Gao with her, waiting at perforated gate zookeepers refer to as a "howdy door" until she is ready to mate.

Bai Yun had her first cub in 1999 via artificial insemination from Shi Shi. Hua Mei was the first panda cub born in the U.S. after ten years of unsuccessful attempts.

The Chinese government might exercise their right to bring the cub to China when it is 4, stated Carmi Penny, curator of mammals at the zoo.


Image Credit: Zoological Society of San Diego


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