Panda lovers across the world are grieving today as news comes out that the new baby born earlier this week at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington died early this morning.
According to the Smithsonian website, panda keepers and volunteers heard new mother Mei Xiang make sounds of distress shortly after 9:15 a.m. Sunday morning.
Under normal circumstances, mother and baby are left alone for bonding time, but with this distress call, specialists intervened.
"We are brokenhearted to share that we have lost our little giant panda cub. Panda keepers and volunteers heard Mei Xiang make a distress vocalization at 9:17 a.m. and let the veterinarian staff know immediately," said the Smithsonian. "They turned off the panda cam and were able to safely retrieve the cub for an evaluation at 10:22 a.m., which we only do in situations of gravest concern. The veterinarians immediately performed CPR and other life-saving measures, but sadly the cub was unresponsive."
The cub was pronounced dead at 10:28 a.m. Its last sound heard on the panda cam was just prior to 9 a.m. and the sound was characterized as "more of a grunt than a squeal".
According to the Washingtonian, a 1 p.m. press conference was held today outside the Panda House and Zoo Director Dennis Kelly spoke and expressed the devastation felt at the zoo.
At this time, the zoo does not know what caused the death of the newborn panda. Sadly, the panda only lived about a week and hadn't been named yet per Chinese tradition to wait 100 days. The birth came as a surprise on Sept. 16 as officials hadn't been able to fully confirm that mother Mei Xiang had become pregnant, having experienced many pseudo-pregnancies over the last several years.
The cub's gender is not yet known, but zoo authorities did share the baby weighed just under 100 grams and was "in good body condition."
"We're all very anxious to know what happened," head zoo vet Suzan Murray said this afternoon, reported the Washingtonian. She noted there was no sign of infection or trauma. "There are so many things that can happen in the first week of life."
A full report is said to be available in approximately two weeks; the Associated Press reported a preliminary finding should be available tomorrow.
The Zoo said it would share more information with the public as they learn more about the premature death of this long-awaited baby.
Giant pandas are rare and their population is small. According to Discovery, only about 1,600 are believed to be in the wild, while over 300 are housed in zoos and breeding centers across the globe, but mostly centered in China.
Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian are both on loan from China. An agreement was signed last winter to extend the pandas' stay in Washington until 2015.