Giant panda Mei Xiang enjoys her afternoon nap at the National Zoo in Washington in this August 23, 2007 file photo. National Zoo staff announced October 11, 2012 that Mei Xiang's most recent cub, which was born September 16 and died six days later, succumbed to liver disease caused by inadequately formed lungs. (Photo : Reuters)
A newborn female giant panda cub's death in September was caused by liver damage because it was not receiving enough oxygen, officials at the Smithsonian's National Zoo said Thursday.
Reuters reported that chief veterinarian Suzan Murray of the National Zoo said that officials were unsure why the cub's lungs failed to form properly, but she added that the scientific community was hoping to learn more about the causes of death in giant panda cubs.
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The female cub, who weighed only 4 ounces, died on Sept. 16, a mere six days after its birth.
However, the cub's death may provide a way for scientists to determine how common liver and lung defects occur in newborn pandas, who are roughly the size of a stick of butter during infancy.
"As unfortunate as this was, this baby and studies of this baby post mortem are contributing to our knowledge of panda reproductive science," Donald Moore, the zoo's associate director for animal sciences, told the Associated Press.
The death of the cub caught zoo keepers by surprise, as they told the Associated Press that its mother, Mei Xiang, a 14 year-old giant panda, took careful care of the creature.
A pathology report and necropsy determined the cub had a "small amount of milk," in its gastro-intestinal system, suggesting the cub had nursed with her mother, seen Thursday in an outdoor area where officials announced the findings, ABC News reported.
However, Mei Xiang's behavior is beginning to return to normal, several sites report, as she is now consuming roughly 80 percent of her bamboo, fruits, and other meals.
And it is still attracting visitors.
"It's great to finally see them," said Brian Ballard, a Hopkins, Mich., teacher who used to work in a zoo told the Press while visiting the zoo to see the panda for the first time. Ballard recalled the first panda couple sent to Washington in 1972 as a gift to the U.S. after President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China.
Giant pandas, according to the World Wildlife Federation, are the rarest member of the bear family, with only 1,600 pandas left worldwide thanks to human threats.
For more information on giant pandas, visit the federation's web site, www.worldwildlife.org.