Cameras Reveal First Glimpse of Newborn Panda

Giant panda with newborn cub.
Mei Xiang cradles her day-old cub in a still from a video stream. (Image credit: Smithsonian National Zoo.)

A giant panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. has given birth to a teeny cub, and the happy occasion has panda lovers glued to the Internet in hopes of catching a glimpse of the little bundle of joy.

Yet that is easier said than done. Second-time mom Mei Xiang, a giant panda on loan from China, is diligently caring for the three-day-old cub, and keeping it tucked close — which means the tiny bear is rarely visible.

Yet for such a tiny, hard-to-see creature (when born, pandas are about the size of a stick of butter), the cub sure can make a racket.  

"The whole panda team is listening, and they can hear the cub even though they can't see it," said Devin Murphy, a spokesperson with the Smithsonian National Zoo. "The cub is vocal, which is good; and because the cub is so vocal that gives everyone reason to believe it's very healthy," Murphy told OurAmazingPlanet.

Animal keepers are steering clear of the panda enclosure to allow Mei to bond with her cub, but trained staff are monitoring the live video feed of the panda nursery 24/7, Murphy said.

It appears that the cub was born at 10:46 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16. Late on the following day, video cameras captured the first images of the elusive cub. A fuzzy still from the camera feed shows the baby's tail and back paws just below Mei's nose, according to zoo staff.

At just a few days old — because they are born when they are still developing — pandas are pink and incredibly small. They don't grow any dark hairs until they are at least a week old, and don't begin to fully show their iconic black-and-white coloring until they're around a month old.

Thanks to the zoo's panda cam, people around the world can join in the vigil for a glimpse of the tiny bear. The live feed from two of the cameras trained on Mei and her elusive cub are hosted on the zoo's website.

Keepers won't enter the bear nursery until Mei leaves her cub alone of her own accord, Murphy said, and that's not likely to happen for another two weeks.

"They really want Mei to be taking care of the cub, and she's been doing that so far," Murphy said. "She is cradling the cub very closely and she's being very attentive. There's no reason for them to rush in right now."

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Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.