At 3:41 a.m. on July 9, a quiet night at the Smithsonian's National Zoo was interrupted by the sounds of squealing. A perplexed panda stared at a tiny, pink creature on the floor of her den. Within minutes, instinct kicked in and Mei Xiang — the zoo's female giant panda — picked up her newborn cub and cradled it to her warm, fluffy chest.
Born blind, hairless and helpless, panda cubs are completely dependent on their mother's care at birth. Unable to regulate their body temperature, they need constant contact with their mother to stay safe and warm.
The pair spent the next week dozing, shifting positions, dozing again and occasionally nursing. When the cub squealed, Mei Xiang immediately woke to attend to it. A shift in position would set the cub off, and Mei Xiang would comfort the fragile newborn. Zoo staff heard tiny suckling sounds, indicating that the cub was nursing. Mei Xiang didn't leave the den to eat or drink during this first week.