Wednesday, August 03, 2005 | Big news came in a tiny package Wednesday as Bai Yun, a giant panda at the San Diego Zoo, gave birth to a squalling 4-ounce cub, following weeks of maternal anxiety and surveillance on the part of zoo staff.
The newborn of unknown gender arrived just before 10 p.m. Tuesday night, after an uneventful three-hour labor. An ecstatic staff kept vigil via a camera rigged in the birthing den of the Giant Panda Research Station.
Though glimpses of the newborn on the screen have been fleeting, zoo officials describe infant pandas as mostly hairless, with closed eyes and a body about the size of a stick of butter. What they lack in size and mobility, they make up for in noisiness.
“They squeal and squawk very loudly to make sure that Mom hears them. They completely rely on the mother to move them around, keep them warm and feed them,” said zoo spokeswoman Yadira Galindo.
Thirteen-year-old Bai Yun was determined pregnant with twins in July by a multidisciplinary team armed with an arsenal of ultrasound and hormone tools. Continual surveillance revealed soon after that the second, smaller fetus had been absorbed into the womb, leaving a single healthy fetus.
The third panda to be born in the history of the San Diego Zoo, the newborn cub is linked to broad-scale research and conservation efforts on the part of the zoo and federal and international wildlife organizations to reverse the decline of panda populations in the wild. Poaching and habitat destruction have taken their toll, leaving an estimated 1,600 individuals left in the world.
“When an animal like this gets the attention of people, they are much more likely to protect the animal and its habitat, along with other species … from insects to small rodents and other mammals,” said Galindo.
According to Galindo, it’s up to the panda pair when visitors will get their first glimpse in person. At least four months are likely to pass before Bai Yun is comfortable letting the cub venture from the den and join the other three adult pandas in the zoo’s open space.
In the meantime, the public can keep vigil via the “Panda Cam,” a 24-hour surveillance screen that can be viewed live at www.sandiegozoo.org.
Please contact Jessica L. Horton directly at