National Zoo Welcomes ‘Precious’ Giant Panda Cub: ‘We’re Overjoyed’
Congratulations are in order for Mei Xiang, the giant panda at the National Zoo who gave birth to a cub on Friday!
The 22-year-old bear became the oldest giant panda to give birth in the United States — and the second oldest in the world — when she welcomed a cub at 6:35 p.m. after more than three hours of labor, according to the Washington, D.C., institution.
"Mei Xiang picked the cub up immediately and began cradling and caring for it," the zoo said in a news release. "The panda team heard the cub vocalize and glimpsed the cub for the first time briefly immediately after the birth."
The sex of the cub will not be determined until a later date, as a neonatal exam has yet to be performed.
“Giant pandas are an international symbol of endangered wildlife and hope, and with the birth of this precious cub we are thrilled to offer the world a much needed moment of pure joy,” Steve Monfort, the John and Adrienne Mars director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said in a statement.
“Because Mei Xiang is of advanced maternal age, we knew the chances of her having a cub were slim. However, we wanted to give her one more opportunity to contribute to her species’ survival. I am incredibly proud of our animal care and science teams, whose expertise in giant panda behavior was critical to this conservation success."
Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated on March 22 with with frozen semen collected from her mate Tian Tian, according to the zoo. She began exhibiting behaviors consistent with pregnancy in late July.
The National Zoo confirmed that Mei Xiang was pregnant earlier in August when veterinarians found fetal tissues in an ultrasound. At the time, zookeepers said they saw "clear images of a developing skeletal structure and strong blood flow" in her womb, calling the discovery a "significant opportunity" as female giant pandas can only become pregnant for 24 to 72 hours each year.
To make sure that animal lovers wouldn't miss the birth, the zoo set up cameras around her habitat to capture the moment live.
"A precious giant panda cub has arrived! We’re overjoyed to share that Mei Xiang gave birth at 6:35 p.m. and is caring for her newborn attentively. Positive mothering behaviors include nursing her cub and cuddling it close," the zoo tweeted on Friday.
In addition to her new cub, Mei Xiang is also mom to Tai Shan, 15, Bao Bao, who will turn 7 on Sunday, and Bei Bei, who turns 5 on Saturday.
Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei currently reside in China as a part of the zoo's cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
This story originally appeared on People.