Giant panda Mei Xiang gives birth to 2 cubs at National Zoo

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Sunday, August 23, 2015
One of the giant panda cubs born on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015 at the Smithsonian's National Zoo being examined by veterinarians.
One of the giant panda cubs born on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015 at the Smithsonian's National Zoo being examined by veterinarians.
kabc-Becky Malinsky/Smithsonian's National Zoo

WASHINGTON -- The National Zoo in Washington says there's one more panda in the world after its female giant panda gave birth to two cubs on Saturday.

Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson confirmed in an email that Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) gave birth to the first cub at 5:35 p.m. She gave birth to the second cub at 10:07 p.m. If the cubs survives, they would be the 17-year-old panda's third and fourth surviving offspring.

Mei Xiang's first cub, Tai Shan, was born in 2005. Her second cub, Bao Bao, turns 2-years-old on Sunday.

Keepers will be watching the newest cubs closely. Pink, hairless and blind, newborn cubs weigh three to five ounces and are about the size of a stick of butter. The zoo has also had disappointments in the past. Mei Xiang gave birth to another stillborn cub in 2013. And in 2012, she gave birth to a cub that died after just six days. Its lungs hadn't fully developed.

Even if the new cubs are healthy, panda fans shouldn't expect to see it in person for a while. After Mei Xiang's second cub Bao Bao was born in 2013, it was about 5 months before she made her public debut. Fans who want to see the newest pandas will have to try to catch a glimpse of them on the zoo's online panda cam.

The public also won't learn immediately whether the cubs are male or female or whether the zoo's male panda, Tian Tian, is the cubs' father. It takes time to determine the tiny cubs' gender and Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated with sperm from Tian Tian and a panda named Hui Hui from Wolong, China, who was determined to be one of the best genetic matches.

The Smithsonian National Zoo's Giant Panda Mei Xiang sleeps in the indoor habitat at the zoo in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The National Zoo is one of only four zoos nationwide to have pandas, which are on loan from China. But the Washington pandas have a history that makes them closely watched.

The zoo's first pair of pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were a gift from China following President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to the country. The pair had five cubs while living at the zoo, but none survived.

The zoo's current pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the parents of both Bao Bao and Tai Shan, arrived in 2000. The pandas belong to China as do any cubs they have. The pair's first cub, Tai Shan, returned to China in 2010. Their second cub, Bao Bao, still lives at the National Zoo.