WASHINGTON (ABC7) — The new giant panda cub at the National Zoo and mom Mei Xiang hit a milestone today, almost a week after the cub's birth.
According to panda caretakers, Mei Xiang left the den twice early Thursday morning to get a drink of water. It was the first time she's left her cub alone.
Newborn giant pandas rely on their mothers for warmth, since they have little fur and cannot regulate their own body temperature," according to the zoo's daily panda update. "During the first few days of a cub’s life, a mother panda forgoes eating and drinking to stay with her offspring. Now that Mei Xiang has started leaving her den to drink, this is a positive sign that the cub can stay warm on its own for short periods.
The cub, whose sex has not yet been determined, did not seem happy about mom's alone time. Both times, Mei Xiang left the den only for about a minute. You can watch the video below.
The sex of the cub has not yet been determined, but Mei Xiang leaving him or her alone means the panda team may be able to conduct their first hands-on exam soon.
"Over the next few days, we expect Mei Xiang will gradually spend more time away from the den," caretakers say. "Eventually, she will feel comfortable leaving the cub for a few minutes while she eats bamboo in her indoor habitat. At that point, the Panda Team will conduct a quick exam of the cub. Mei Xiang’s behavior will dictate how much time keepers have with the cub, but we hope to do a quick check of its body parts, obtain its weight and measurements, and take a cheek swab, which will allow us to analyze the cub’s DNA and determine its sex."
Mei Xiang has lived at the National Zoo along with male giant panda Tian Tian (whose 23rd birthday is today!) since December 2000. They came to the zoo as part of a breeding program with China that requires that the zoo return the cubs to China a few years after they are born.
She gave birth to the zoo's first surviving giant panda cub, Tai Shan, on July 9, 2005. The second, Bao Bao, was born on August 23, 2013. She birthed Bei Bei on Aug. 22, 2015. Bei Bei departed for China on November 19 of last year. Mei Xiang has also had several pseudopregnancies and has birthed three cubs who were either stillborn or did not survive longer than a few days.