October 13, 2005

National Zoo’s Panda Cub Takes First Steps

WASHINGTON -- The National Zoo's 3-month-old giant panda cub put his best paw forward Wednesday and took his first full steps.

Until then, the animal had only pulled himself around on his front legs, said chief veterinarian Suzan Murray. But soon after a medical exam - when zoo vets placed the cub back in the cage he shares with his mother Mei Xiang - they saw his rear legs kick into action.

"He was just moving his front end, and his hind legs sort of moved shakily behind him," Murray said. "It was really cute."

The cub's examiners also noticed for the first time Wednesday that his teeth have started coming in. At his last exam two weeks earlier, veterinarians merely saw bumps on his gums where the teeth would come through.

It will still be a while, however, before the cub starts gnawing on bamboo. He will not be weaned off his mother for another year, Murray said.

Veterinarians also observed that the cub had put on some mass since his last exam. He now weighs 12.7 pounds and is 25.5 inches long - more than a pound heavier and almost an inch longer than two weeks ago.

"Each time we handle him he seems to just grow and grow," Murray said of the cub who weighed less than two pounds about three weeks after his birth.

The cub also seemed more alert and aware of his environment, Murray said.

"Initially he would more or less just lie there," she said. "Now he turns his head and focuses on things."

The cub's next milestone comes Monday, when he gets a name 100 days after his birth in observance of a Chinese tradition.

More than 200,000 visitors to the National Zoo's Web site, from as far away as New Zealand and Poland, voted for one of five names proposed by the zoo and Chinese animal conservation officials.

But Murray said the animal's lack of a name has not caused confusion among his caretakers.

"We just call him 'The Cub,'" she said.


On the Net:

Giant Pandas-National Zoo: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/GiantPandas/