National Zoo panda cub is a girl; Tian Tian is the father

(Photo courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA) - It's a girl!

Zoologists at Smithsonian's National Zoo announced Thursday that Mei Xiang's healthy panda cub is female.

They also announced that Tian Tian, the Zoo's male giant panda, fathered both the healthy cub and Mei Xiang's stillborn cub. Zoo officials say that the cubs were fraternal twins.

"She is just beautiful," Dr. Brandie Smith, the Zoo's senior curator of mammals and giant pandas, said. "I have to get used to saying 'she'."

It was a big announcement that Frederick resident Theresa Daytner has been waiting on for weeks.

"The waiting, the anticipation, the excitement," she described of how she felt before learning the cub was female.

Daytner drove the hour all the way from Frederick down to the District for “the zoo, the weather, and the panda." There are only a few glimpses of the cub available on the zoo's panda cam, but she is said to be doing just fine.

The surviving panda cub has been described as healthy and active. Zookeepers conducted a 10-minute physical examination days after it was born. Veterinarians said the cub had a steady heartbeat and appeared to be digesting its food.

"It's got a fat little belly," Dr. Smith said. "It's very active. It's very vocal. If she needs anything, she definitely lets Mei Xiang and the rest of us know that she needs something."

She continued: "We're starting to see it's a litttle bit fuzzy and it's got those great black and white markings that are coming."

Zoo officials say that Mei Xiang has been a great mother, focused solely on her newborn for the past 13 days. She is said to be doing what she is supposed to be doing – being protective of her baby girl.

It takes time to determine a cub's gender and, in some cases, its father. In this instance, zoo scientists used two separate tests to confirm that the cub was female.

"I watched News 7 and it was on the news this morning," said Florida resident Vickie Newbie. "I love it. It's a first experience with a panda. I've never seen a panda before."

Visiting from Florida, Vickie and Rich Newby say they came to the Zoo just to see the pandas, including the father of the cub – Tian Tian.

Panda mother Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated with sperm from Tian Tian, the male panda at the National Zoo, and a panda named Gao Gao at the San Diego Zoo. To determine the cub's paternal father, zoologists compared genotype profiles from both Tian Tian and Gao Gao using small amounts of blood and muscle tissue.

The National Zoo has not picked a name for Mei Xiang's cub, but officials say they'd be working closely with their Chinese counterparts to come up with one.

Officials say that she'll receive a Chinese name and that they hope to engage the Washington area to help in the selection.

Mei Xiang and her cub will remain behind closed doors for several more months before she'll be back available for public viewing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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