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Washington zoo’s panda cub dies one week after birth

Mei Xiang, a female giant panda at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, pictured in this December 19, 2011 file photograph, gave birth to her second cub with Tian Tian as the result of artificial insemination.

By Marco Mierke and Anne Walters –

WASHINGTON — The newborn panda cub at Washington’s National Zoo has died, the zoo said Sunday, just one week after its birth drew front page headlines in the U.S. capital.

Zookeepers heard a distress cry from the mother, Mei Xiang, at 9:17 am EDT and were able to enter the enclosure to examine the cub about an hour later. The animal was unresponsive and did not respond to lifesaving efforts, the zoo said in a statement.

The cause of death remained unclear with no outward signs of trauma or infection and the cub weighed under 100 grams.

Washington is home to two adult pandas on loan from China. The animals have become unofficial mascots for the U.S. capital, and there has been widespread news coverage over the years about the reproductive status of female Mei Xiang.

Zoo officials had artificially inseminated her earlier this year. They had kept up a pregnancy watch for weeks but were unable to say conclusively whether a cub was on the way. Mei Xiang had had so-called false pregnancies in the past where she demonstrated symptoms of pregnancy but was not actually carrying a cub.

Zookeepers were ecstatic about the new addition last week and described themselves as “brokenhearted to share that we have lost our little giant panda cub.”

Mei Xiang gave birth to one earlier cub, Tai Shan, in 2005. He was returned to China in 2010, prompting intense speculation about when another panda might be born.

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