URGENT Ling-Ling’s Cub Dies
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Giant panda Ling-Ling’s tiny 4-day-old cub died just before midnight Friday from respiratory arrest apparently caused by an infection, National Zoo officials said today.
Richard Montali, head of the zoo’s department of pathology, said further tests will be run on the cub’s tissues, but it is believed the infection was peritonitis, which can cause fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity.
″Fluid in the cavity was the terminal event,″ Montali, who conducted the autopsy this morning, said at a news conference at the zoo.
He said there was no evidence of the female cub, which weighed 140.6 grams, about 5 ounces, being crushed or injured while Ling-Ling nursed her.
The cub’s squeals were last heard about 11:41 p.m. and the mother panda put the cub down and went into an adjoining room 15 minutes later, zoo spokesman Robert Hoage said in a statement.
″We’re extremely disappointed,″ Hoage said. ″Many of the staff members have put in an incredibly long week and there has been great effort and great hope over here.″
The cub did not vocalize as it had previously done whenever it had been briefly separated from Ling-Ling. At 12:05 a.m. Ling-Ling picked up the cub, licked and cradled it, but again there was no sound and the cub appeared motionless.
Zookeepers then permitted the mother panda to enter an outdoor enclosure and removed the cub at 1:43 a.m. Officials had been monitoring the progress of the cub via closed-circuit television and had been unable to determine its sex earlier.
″We feel we did just about everything we could to ensure that the mother and the cub would do as well as possible but nature has a way of taking things into her own hands,″ Hoage said.
Zoo officials said Ling-Ling returned almost immediately to ″normal behavior,″ walking in her outdoor enclosure, eating carrots and drinking water.
Lisa Stevens, the zoo’s collection manager, said Ling-Ling was not cradling objects in a maternal fashion as she had after one cub died shortly after birth three years ago.
Mother and cub had appeared in good health Friday and zoo officials were optimistic that the cub would have become the first giant panda bred in captivity in the United States.
Ling-Ling, who had spent the previous three days giving her cub constant attention, also had appeared happy with the progress of her child, leaving it alone for awhile to grab a bite to eat.
Ling-Ling, at 18, is the oldest living panda outside China. According to the Chinese, female pandas usually stop reproducing at about age 20, said Devra Kleiman, the zoo’s assistant director for research.
″We’re going to look forward to next year,″ said Ms. Kleiman. ″At this point, it’s difficult to assess what impact this will have on Ling.″
Ling-Ling and her mate, Hsing-Hsing, came to the United States as gifts from China in 1972.
Giant pandas are considered an endangered species, with fewer than 1,000 existing in the wild. Six other pandas have been bred in captivity outside China, none of them in the United States.