The 6-week-old giant panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo is male, scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have confirmed. During the cub’s first veterinary examination on September 19, zoo vets took a swab from his cheek for DNA analysis. Externally, male and female cubs appear similar at birth, so genetic testing was the most accurate way to determine the cub’s sex. The vets brought the swab to SCBI’s Center for Conservation Genomics, where scientists sequenced a short fragment of the zinc finger protein gene. The X and Y chromosomes both have this gene, with slightly different DNA sequences. Scientists determined that the sample swabbed by zoo vets showed both sequences, confirming the cub is male. A painting created by male giant panda Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), the cub’s father, has been used to reveal the cub’s gender to giant panda keepers and fans online.
The zoo will continue to provide updates on the Cub on its website, on social media using the hashtags #PandaStory and PandaCubdates and in the Giant Panda email newsletter. Giant panda fans can see the cub, mother Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian via the Giant Panda camera on the zoo’s website.
Zoo vets say the cub appears to be healthy and strong. In a brief examination conducted by the panda team on October 1, the guards took the cub’s measurements. He weighed 3.6 pounds and measured 14 inches from nose to tip of tail. His abdominal circumference was 12.5 inches. Both eyes of the little one begin to open. The keepers are encouraged by his progress.
At 22, mother Mei Xiang is the oldest giant panda in the United States and the second oldest documented in the world to give birth. SCBI breeding scientists and zoo vets performed artificial insemination on Mei Xiang on March 22 with frozen sperm taken from Tian Tian, who turned 23 on August 27. This is the first time that a zoo in the United States has experienced a successful pregnancy and childbirth. by artificial insemination using only frozen semen. Zoo vets confirmed the presence of a fetus during an ultrasound on August 14 and 17.
As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has updated its schedules and entry requirements. The panda house of the David M. Rubenstein family’s giant panda habitat is currently closed to ensure the tranquility of Mei Xiang and her cub. Asia Trail, including the giant pandas viewing, is temporarily closed to visitors for scheduled repaving of the aisles.
In addition to this cub, Mei Xiang gave birth to three surviving descendants: Tai Shan (tie-SHON), Bao Bao (BOW BOW) and Bei Bei (BAY BAY). Tai Shan was born on July 9, 2005 and moved to China in February 2010. Bao Bao was born on August 23, 2013 and moved to China in February 2017. Bei Bei was born on August 22, 2015 and moved to China in November. 2019. As part of the zoo’s cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the zoo move to China when they are 4 years old. The zoo’s current cooperative breeding agreement expires in December 2020.
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