ANIMALS

National Zoo's panda Mei Xiang gives birth

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The Smithsonian National Zoo says Mei Xiang gave birth to a panda cub around 5:30 p.m. Friday. 

The Smithsonian National Zoo says Mei Xiang has gone into labor. (Photo: Smithsonian screen grab of the panda cam)

The National Zoo reports that Mei Xiang immediately picked up the cub and began cradling it. The cub immediately began "vocalizing."

Following Chinese tradition, the cub won't be named for 100 days. Its gender won't be known for several days.

Mei Xiang had a quick two-hour labor. Her water broke around 3:30 p.m.

The giant panda began showing behavioral changes consistent with pregnancy weeks ago. Keepers said she began eating less and shredding bamboo for a nest.

Watch Mei Xiang on the Giant Panda Cam.

A Chinese panda expert performed artificial inseminations on Mei Xiang on March 30 after she failed to breed naturally with male panda Tian Tian. The father of the new panda cub will be determined by a DNA test.

Mei Xiang has given birth to two cubs. Tai Shan was born in 2005; a week-old cub died last September. Mei Xiang had five failed pregnancies before giving birth.

Panda cubs are especially delicate and vulnerable to infection and other illness. The first weeks of life are critical for the cubs as mothers have to make sure they stay warm and get enough to eat.

Last year's birth had come as a surprise, and zookeepers and visitors were devastated by its death days later. A necropsy showed the cub had died from a liver problem.

Washington's pandas are treated like royalty. The zoo was given its first set of pandas in 1972 as a gift from China to commemorate President Richard Nixon's historic visit to the Asian country. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Video courtesy of National Zoo 

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