National Zoo's Panda Cub Had Liver Abnormalities

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 24 2012 11:32 AM

National Zoo Still Trying To Make Sense of Panda Cub's Death

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The giant panda exhibit remained closed at the Smithsonian's National Zoo following the sudden death of a baby panda cub on Sunday.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The panda cub that died at the National Zoo on Sunday a week after its birth had liver problems and fluid in its abdomen, according to the preliminary findings of a necropsy made public on Monday. But it's still too early to know the cause of death, the zoo says.

Chief veterinarian Suzan Murray cautioned reporters on drawing too many conclusions from the initial findings. "Judging too much on the initial necropsy can be a little bit dangerous at times ... something that might appear abnormal to you visually, when you look at it under a microscope, it may indeed be normal," she said (via the Washington Post).

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The cub had normal-appearing heart and lungs and milk in its stomach, ruling out suffocation or starvation as possible causes. Lab tests on tissue samples are expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks in order to determine cause of death.

The cub's mother, Mei Xiang, is apparently coping well with the loss, though as the Post explains, she has not fully let go of her mothering instinct:

She slept soundly in her den at the zoo’s panda exhibit, and has ventured out of the den to eat and drink and interact with her keepers — behaviors she had eschewed at the end of her pregnancy and since the cub was born on Sept. 16. However, Mei Xiang is still cradling a toy that she found in her den, much as she cradled her cub during its brief life.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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