May 1, 2013
UPDATE: The results are in. The Zoo’s new adorable sloth bear is now officially named Hank, a combination of his parents’ names—Hana and Francois. Voted most favorite on the Zoo’s Facebook page, winning 830 votes, the name Hank beat out the other two options Ravi (615 votes) and Bandar (219).
Born on December 19, 2012 and busy bonding with his mom ever since, the Zoo’s sloth bear cub is need of a name. The Zoo opened up its Facebook poll to fans May 1 to allow everyone to weigh in before noon on May 3. So, does the little cutie look like a Ravi, a Bandar or a Hank? You decide.
Because the cub was born in December just before the winter solstice, maybe Ravi, which means sun in the Hindi language, fits the furry creature. Or perhaps his adventurous spirit and mad climbing skills have earned him the name Bandar, the Hindi word for monkey. Or, in the tradition of Brangelina and Bennifer, perhaps a combo-name to honor his parents Hana and Francois is in order, hence, Hank.
We offer up these photos to help you make your selection.
December 20, 2012
“In various zoos around North America,” says Saffoe, curator for the great cats and bears, “the problem has been since 2005, only two litters have survived so far.” Both of those litters belong to the National Zoo’s bear, Billie Jean. All the others have died after day seven, according to Saffoe, which the Zoo’s cubs marked Wednesday, December 20.
The population also continues to dwindle in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning the successful breeding of the species is an important victory. And because the National Zoo is one of the few zoos that actually monitors its newborn cubs with the use of an infrared camera installed in the otherwise dark den the bears use, Saffoe says his team is perfectly poised to contribute original findings about what’s made its program so successful.
“We’re extremely lucky that we have this bear and that she’s reproducing for us,” says Saffoe, “and that we have the equipment to be able to watch her. I don’t think a lot of viewers quite realize how special what they’re watching is.”
His team has begun looking through the recorded footage that begins on November 30 when Billie Jean first exhibited signs she was nearing labor. Searching for clues as to what makes the environment or the animals so unique, Saffoe says this time around the cameras are even better than for the birth in 2010.
The cubs aren’t out of the woods yet, of course. Estimating that his team won’t be able to access the cubs for another nine weeks, Saffoe says there’s still plenty of unknowns that could go wrong, citing the example of the infant panda who recently died at the Zoo. Barring unforeseen illness, Saffoe says the most realistic dangers are maternal neglect and accidents, including the possibility that the mother could crush the cubs.
In the meantime, he will listen in for vocalizations to be sure all is proceeding normally. Saffoe says, “Everything seems to be going really, really well. We’re very happy with how things sound and look.”
December 13, 2012
The cubs will stay nestled away with their mom for the first week, according to the Zoo. So for now, we bring you a snapshot of the happy family from the Zoo’s bear cam, where you can catch a glimpse of them if you’re lucky. Some Zoo fans even watched the birth happen live via the cam, but most just left their love Thursday on Facebook.
October 11, 2012
On September 23rd, the world said goodbye to the National Zoo’s week-old baby giant panda without knowing its gender, name or cause of death. A necropsy was completed just after the cub was discovered dead, and the Zoo has now released its official report, citing lung and liver damage from oxygen deprivation as the cause of death for the young female.
The report concluded, “Her lungs were poorly developed and likely caused her to have insufficient oxygen, which would be consistent with the changes in the liver.” Mortality rates for giant pandas in captivity in their first year are bleak for both male and female cubs: 26 and 20 percent respectively.
Officials again confirmed that there were no external or internal signs of trauma. In fact, it wasn’t until a caretaker, keeping an eye on the mother and cub from home with the Zoo’s panda cam, heard a distressed sound from mother Mei Xiang that staff was alerted to the crisis. Despite efforts to perform CPR, the cub was unresponsive.
Meanwhile, Mei Xiang has almost returned to her normal behavior and keepers have cleared the bamboo nesting materials from her den.
September 24, 2012
After just six and a half days of life, the National Zoo’s panda cub died suddenly Sunday morning. The death left a list of unknowns for staff and onlookers to sort through. Without a name, and its sex undetermined, the tiny cub was just a blur of squirming limbs and squeaks for much of its life. In a medical examination conducted on Sunday night, veterinarian pathologist John Roberts determined the panda had been nursing properly and was not suffocated (mothers accidentally rolling onto their cubs is not uncommon). Only a few abnormalities appeared and further study is needed to determine their significance.
“The only abnormalities the veterinarians have detected so far were some fluid in her abdomen and a slightly abnormal liver. They don’t know whether either of those things is significant, and they’re still investigating,” the Zoo reports. The staff also learned that the cub was likely female.
The panda cub was to be part of an ongoing effort to understand the breeding and behavior of the endangered species. Its mother, Mei Xiang, was artificially inseminated in April. Officials observed the giant panda for any signs she might be pregnant, and, in August, the Zoo reported she had elevated hormone levels and had begun nesting. The excitement built until Mei Xiang gave birth to the cub on Sunday, September 16, after seven years of failed pregnancies and false hope.
Less than a week later, the saga ended with an alarming honk from Mei Xiang at 9:17 a.m., indicating something had gone terribly wrong. Veterinarians rushed to try to save the baby, but CPR was unsuccessful, according to an official statement. The cub was declared dead at 10:28 a.m.
The first month of life is a critical and perilous time for panda cubs, according to care taker Juan Rodriguez. But after a few days of watching the mother groom, cuddle and care for her infant, chances seemed to be in the baby’s favor.
Now, the team will continue to search for more conclusive results while monitoring Mei until she returns to normal behavior. The staff did report that the mother slept well Sunday night and ate and drank Monday morning. “Watchers did notice her cradling an object,” staff wrote in an official statement Monday morning.
The Zoo added that it is still reeling from the loss of the cub and that, “Every loss is hard but this one is especially devastating.”