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Baby panda dies just days after birth at National Zoo

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WASHINGTON – One of the two baby pandas born this weekend at the National Zoo has died, according to the zoo.

“We are sad to report that the smaller of the two panda cubs has died,” the zoo tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

Giant panda Mei Xiang delivered two offspring hours apart on Saturday night. At the time, zoo officials said the cubs were “vulnerable” given their size, but both appeared to be healthy.

Wednesday afternoon, zoo officials said the cubs were “strong,” “vocal” and “showing no signs of concerns” in the days after their birth.

To help tend to the babies, zoo leaders said they would “swap” each of the pandas in and out so that Mei Xiang would only have to care for one at a time. The National Zoo would care for the panda not with its mother.

Those swaps were described as largely “successful,” but the smaller cub’s condition appeared to deteriorate.

“We immediately noticed that the little cub had not increased in weight, appeared weaker and was exhibiting possible respiratory issues,” said Don Neiffer, chief veterinarian of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “Despite extreme efforts on the part of our dedicated staff, we weren’t able to change things.”

The small panda was proscribed antibiotics and fluids.

“It’s obvious we were prepared, but it’s not surprising that we’re disappointed,” he said.

Brandie Smith, the associate director for Animal Care Sciences, said it was not evident that Mei Xiang had done anything wrong in caring for the cub. The mother was 1,500 times larger than the baby, making it impossible at times for zoo officials to track the smaller panda’s whereabouts. According to officials, the mom could easily hide the cub under her chin.

“She never showed us any signs that she was concerned about her infant,” Neiffer said.

Mei Xiang has two other children – Tai Shan, born in 2005 and living in China, and Bao Bao, who just turned 2 on Sunday.

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