WASHINGTON — Lung and liver damage caused the death of a panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo last month, a zoo official said Thursday.
The cub’s lungs were not fully formed, which impeded the flow of oxygen to the liver, said Suzan Murray, the chief veterinarian at the zoo.
“We don’t know yet what caused [the lungs not to form] and it is something we hope to learn,” Murray said. “We’re hoping to learn more about the causes of neonatal death.”
A team of pathologists conducted the necropsy and thoroughly inspected every one of the cub’s organs, Murray said.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the cub’s mother and father, were brought to Washington from the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda.
The current loan contract between the center and the zoo lasts through December 5, 2015, according to Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokesperson for the zoo.
A stipulation within the contract states that if after two years, either of the bears is deemed unsuitable for breeding, representatives from both sides would discuss exchanging the bears, Baker-Masson said.
As that two-year benchmark approaches, Baker-Masson said she is aware of concerns that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will be sent back to China.
A meeting between representatives from the zoo and the center in China will take place later in the year, she said.
“They really have to take into consideration what’s best for these bears here in Washington, D.C.,” Baker-Masson said. “[They have to consider} the population of bears in China. They also have to take into consideration the overall conservation efforts for the giant panda species.
Immediately following the cub’s death, the well-being of Mei Xiang was a primary concern, according to zoo officials.
During the weeks after the cub’s passing, Mei Xiang was observed cradling a rubber toy like a baby, said Don Moore, the associate director of animal care sciences at the zoo.
Zookeepers removed the toy Wednesday and Mei Xiang did not seem to miss it, Moore said. Her appetite and behavior are almost completely back to normal.
The weeks since the panda’s passing has taken a toll on those that work at the zoo.
“The zookeepers are past the emotional distress part, but they’re still disappointed,” Moore said. “They’re looking forward to the next breeding season. We all kind of watch out for each other during one of these events.”
Before this year, the last cub born at the zoo was Tai Shan in 2005. This year’s cub, which was never named, was born on September 16.
Just six days later, zookeepers unsuccessfully tried to revive the cub after they were alerted to a problem by the distressed sounds of Mei Xiang, according to multiple reports.
The zoo is receiving support from around the country and the world, Baker-Masson said.
“It has been very interesting to see people’s responses,” Baker-Masson said. “People have learned a lot about conservation and science. We’ve been doing our best to put out information about both bears, but primarily Mei. We’ll continue doing so until she’s back to herself.”