Smithsonian National Zoo

UPDATE: Latest on Giant Panda Cub at National Zoo


In August, ZooBorns excitedly shared news of the birth of twin Giant Pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo. The cubs were born on August 22 and the story quickly spread worldwide. Unfortunately, the smaller and weaker of the two cubs died just a few days after birth. Keepers at the National Zoo have continued their diligent care of the remaining cub.

In one of the latest updates from the zoo, keepers reported that, on a recent evening, Mei Xiang decided to eat some sugarcane and drink diluted apple juice left for her. Two hours later, she left the den to urinate and defecate, which was only the second time she had done so since giving birth. Keepers expect that she will become more comfortable leaving her cub in the den for increasingly longer periods of time to eat and drink over the next few weeks.

During these times Mei Xiang is away from the den, veterinarians and keepers often take the opportunity to give the cub quick checkups. On September 5, he weighed 409.6 grams, which was 119 grams more than he weighed on Sept. 2. On September 14, he was up to 881.5 grams (1.9 lbs.). Cubs at this stage usually gain between 40 and 50 grams per day. Veterinarians also listened to his heart and lungs, which all sounded normal. 



4_21255859399_c9ced62049_oPhoto Credits: Smithsonian National Zoo & Meghan Murphy (Images 1,2) ; Erika Bauer (Image 7)

Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics confirmed that the Giant Panda cub born Aug. 22 at the National Zoo is male. A paternity analysis showed that Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN) is the cub's father. Scientists also confirmed the deceased cub, delivered by Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), was a male, also sired by Tian Tian. The cubs were fraternal twins.

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Panda Twins Cause Giant Stir at Smithsonian’s Nat. Zoo


Giant Panda Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) gave birth to twins at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on August 22. The panda team witnessed the first cub’s birth at 5:35 pm.  A second cub was born at 10:07pm. 



4_20191285443_22e6b35e63_kPhoto Credits: Smithsonian's National Zoo / (Images 9 & 10: Connor Mallon)

A panda team of three keepers retrieved one of the cubs per the Zoo’s Giant Panda Twin Hand-Rearing protocol. The cub was placed in an incubator and was cared for by veterinarians and panda keepers. At this time, it has not been confirmed if the retrieved cub was the first born or second born. The retrieved cub was vocalizing very well and appeared healthy. It weighed 138 grams.

Giant Pandas give birth to twins approximately 50 percent of the time. This is only the third time a Giant Panda living in the United States has given birth to twins.

The panda team will alternately swap the cubs, allowing one to nurse and spend time with Mei Xiang, while the other is being bottle fed and kept warm in an incubator. The sex of the cubs won’t be determined until a later date.

As of this morning (August 24), the zoo reports that the panda cubs are doing well, but the panda team had a challenging night. When they tried to swap the cubs at 11p.m., Mei Xiang would not set down the cub she had in her possession. Consequently, the panda team cared for the smaller cub throughout the night until 7:05 am, when they successfully swapped the cubs. The panda team supplemented the smaller cub with formula by bottle-feeding. They were concerned that the smaller cub was not getting enough volume, so they moved to tube feeding which went well and quickly.  Their goal is for each cub to spend an equal amount of time with their mother.  Keepers stated, the newborn cubs are vulnerable and this first week is incredibly important and the risk remains high. The panda team is doing great work, around the clock, and will continue to keep the public posted.

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Endangered Crocs Hatch at Smithsonian’s National Zoo


Five critically endangered Cuban Crocodiles recently hatched, at the Reptile Discovery Center of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, between July 29 and Aug. 7. Dorothy, a 57-year-old genetically valuable crocodile, laid the eggs. The hatchlings are less than a foot long, but they could reach up to 10.5 feet long when fully grown.



4_19893839283_12d67c93ac_kPhoto Credits: Amy Enchelmeyer/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Dorothy laid a clutch of 24 eggs in a hole nest on May 12. Crocodiles build either mound or hole nests. Hole nests are not always easily visible after females dig them; however, keepers had been monitoring Dorothy carefully and noticed physical changes indicating she had recently laid eggs. After a week of searching the exhibit for her nest, they found it and excavated the eggs. Ten of the eggs were fertile and moved to an incubator. Half of those fertile eggs continued to develop during the entire gestation period.

A crocodile embryo will develop into a male or female depending on the incubating temperature of the eggs. Only eggs incubated between 89.6 and 90.5 degrees Fahrenheit will hatch out males; any temperature higher or lower will result in females. The surface temperature of Dorothy’s nest was 84.7 degrees Fahrenheit when keepers reached it, and it was seven inches deep.

Keepers incubated the eggs in the temperature range to hatch out males, but it is too early to definitively determine the sex of each crocodile.

The Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Cuban Crocodiles requested that the Zoo hatch all males to ensure that the Cuban Crocodile population in human care continues to be sustainable. In the wild, a Cuban Crocodile’s nest will range in temperature. Depending on an egg’s temperature in the nest, some eggs could incubate at much warmer temperatures than others, resulting in males and females hatching out of the same clutch.

Keepers are behind the scenes, at the Reptile Discovery Center, caring for the baby crocodiles. Guests can see adult Cuban Crocodiles: Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Jefe, on exhibit as usual.

Cuban Crocodiles are listed as “Critically Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are threatened with habitat loss, hybridization and illegal hunting. They are only found in two swamps in Cuba.

More pics, below the fold!

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Rare Tortoise Hatches at Smithsonian's National Zoo


The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is celebrating a conservation milestone; for the first time, a rare Spider Tortoise has hatched in the Reptile Discovery Center. Animal care staff are closely monitoring the hatchling, which emerged May 10 in an off-exhibit area. 



17944965865_0fc188c3db_kPhoto Credits: Connor Mallon, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Staff have not yet verified the three-week-old tortoise’s sex, as when they are young they show no sexual dimorphism. Keepers report that it appears to be thriving and are encouraged by its growth. If the tortoise continues to progress, it will be on exhibit this summer. In the meantime, Zoo visitors can see a family group of adult male Spider Tortoises on exhibit.

The tortoise’s parents came to the Zoo in January 2014 per a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan. Female Spider Tortoises do not lay a clutch of eggs; rather, they lay one egg at a time, over a period of months. The Zoo’s female laid her first egg in August 2014, but that egg did not hatch. The second egg was laid in September 2014, and this hatchling emerged. A third egg, laid in October 2014, has yet to hatch. 

Spider Tortoise eggs can be difficult to hatch in human care, in part because they must be incubated, cooled, and incubated again during the embryo’s development. The Zoo will share the information gathered about this species’ breeding and development with AZA, for the benefit of other institutions that exhibit and want to breed this species.

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A Happy Ending for Two Rescued Red Panda Cubs


With four breeding pairs, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has one of the most successful Red Panda breeding programs in the United States.  But even strong programs experience challenges:   Earlier this year, two Red Panda cubs – named Henry and Tink – almost didn’t make it.  But thanks to expert care, these two little ones are thriving, and you can see their story in this video.

Photo Credit:  Smithsonian's National Zoo


Henry was so sick at birth that keepers weren’t sure he’d survive his first day of life.    Because Henry is genetically valuable to the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, the zoo put as many resources as necessary into saving this little cub.  Henry stopped breathing, and he was on oxygen for one month.  He later overcame a bout of pneumonia, and by the time he was three months old, Henry had increased his weight ten-fold – a huge accomplishment given his rough start in life.

Tink was cared for by her mother for a short time, but she was not growing.  Keepers determined that her mother was not producing enough milk.  Again, the National Zoo’s staff swung into action and removed Tink from her mother’s care.  Today, Tink is gaining weight and growing just as she should.

Henry and Tink are constant companions, and even though Henry is much bigger, the staff says he is extremely gentle with his friend.  The two play, explore, and simply hang out together.

You can see Henry and Tink’s story in this web episode of Wild Inside the National ZooView the entire series to learn more about the behind-the-scenes operation of the National Zoo.

Four Litters of Red Panda Cubs Born at SCBI


All four Red Panda pairs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., successfully bred and had cubs this year. Of the 10 cubs, more born at SCBI than any other year, seven have survived.

The latest pair to have cubs was Shama and Rusty, who are best known to the public. Rusty gained national attention in June 2013 after he escaped from his enclosure on Asia Trail at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Shama, an experienced mother, gave birth to three cubs June 26. This is the first litter Rusty has sired. Keepers had been monitoring Shama closely the past few weeks since her behavior indicated she might be pregnant. Keepers are observing the cubs via a closed-circuit camera, and the cubs appear healthy.




Rusty and Shama’s three cubs join three other litters born within the past five weeks. Two cubs were born May 27 to female Yanhua and male Sherman. It was their first litter.

Two more cubs were born June 16 to female Regan and male Rocco. One cub was stillborn; the other is being hand-reared to increase chances of survival. The surviving cub is currently in critical condition and receiving round-the-clock care. Keepers took extra steps to prepare for the birth of Regan’s cubs. She has given birth before, but has neglected cubs in the past. As a result, keepers trained her to voluntarily participate in ultrasounds, and they moved her to the veterinary hospital before the birth and monitored her 24 hours a day when she began showing signs consistent with an impending birth. Regan is very genetically valuable to the red panda population in human care, and keepers took every precaution to increase the likelihood of a successful birth.

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Sloth Bear Cub Gets TLC 24/7 at National Zoo

A Sloth Bear cub is alive today because keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo decided to hand-raise the cub rather than leave her with her mother, Khali.  The cub is now active and growing thanks to the round-the-clock care she receives from zoo keepers.

The photos below chronicle the cub’s growth from two weeks old to two-and-a-half months old.


13288359815_cf0b861f6f_oPhoto Credits:  Smithsonsian's National Zoo, Courtney Janney, Connor Mallon

The cub was one of three born to Khali on December 29, 2013, and she is the only cub that survived longer than seven days. Khali ingested the first cub about 20 minutes after she gave birth. It is not uncommon for carnivores, including Sloth Bears, to ingest stillborn cubs, or even live cubs if they or the mother are compromised in some way. Khali, an experienced mom, appeared attentive to her two remaining cubs, and keepers monitored her closely via closed-circuit cams before, during and after the births. However, she ingested a second cub seven days later and spent several hours away from her remaining cub in the early morning hours of January 6, which is not normal for a Sloth Bear with a newborn cub.

Read more and see additional photos below.

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Watch a Blue Dart Frog Grow Up at Smithsonian's National Zoo

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Check out this young Blue Dart Frog morphing from a tadpole to a froglet at Smithsonian's National Zoo! It takes about 80 days to go from fertilized egg, to tadpole, to fully-formed tiny frog.

Poison Dart Frogs are native to Central and South America. In the wild, the blue frog secretes poison from its skin due to chemicals from its diet. But at the zoo, without rainforest ants to eat, this bright blue frog is harmless. Visitors can see froglet and its family on exhibit at the zoo.

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Photo credit: Justin Graves / Smithsonian's National Zoo 

Blue Dart Frogs are found in a few isolated 'islands' of forest in the savanna of southern Suriname. Because their habitat is so difficult to reach, there is little data to tell us whether their population is in decline. Some species of Dart Frogs are Threatened or Endangered, and Blue Dart Frogs are certainly at risk as a result of their small ranges.

Did you know that worldwide, over 32% of amphibians are listed as globally endangered, and almost half of all known amphibian species are declining? 

When Mom's Away, the Cubs Get Weighed!

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Last week at Smithsonian National Zoo, African Lion mother Naba spent some time away from her cubs and enjoyed a special oxtail treat with her sister, Shera. Keepers took the opportunity to get their first in-person look at the cubs. Their report: they are adorable! 

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6 lionPhoto credit: Smithsonian National Zoo / Karen Abbott

In order to distinguish the two, keepers shaved a small mark on each cub. The smaller cub, who weighs 7.6 pounds (3.4 kg), has a shave mark on his/her left shoulder. The larger cub, who weighs 8.26 pounds (3.7 kg), has a small shave mark at the base of his/her tail. Animal care staff have not yet verified the cubs’ sex. (Just shy of 2 weeks old, the cubs’ genetalia have not fully developed.) 

When Naba returned to the cubbing den, she groomed and nursed the cubs. She didn’t show any signs of stress. Keepers gave her the option to move the cubs to a different set of cubbing dens, but Naba choose to keep them where they were. 

Watch the little lion family grow on the zoo's Cub Cam.

Endangered Micronesian Kingfisher Hatches

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The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute rung in 2014 with the hatching of the most endangered species in its collection—a Micronesian Kingfisher— on January 1. The chick, whose sex is unknown, is the first offspring for its 8-year-old father and 2-year-old mother. This boost brings the total population of Micronesian Kingfishers to 129 birds. They are extinct in the wild.

Micronesian Kingfishers are extremely difficult to breed due to incompatibility between males and females, and the inability of some parents to successfully raise their own chicks.  Animal care staff are hand-raising the chick, which involves feeding it at two-hour intervals, seven to eight times per day.

Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo can see these critically endangered birds on exhibit in the Bird House.

Kingfisher 2Photo credits: Victoria Lake / Conservation Biology Institute

See a video of the hatchling:


Micronesian Kingfishers flourished in Guam’s limestone forests and coconut plantations until the arrival of the brown tree snake, an invasive species that stowed away in military equipment shipped from New Guinea after World War II. Because these reptiles had no natural predators on Guam, their numbers grew and they spread across the island quickly. Within three decades, they had hunted Micronesian Kingfishers and eight other bird species to the brink of extinction.

In 1984, Guam’s Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources captured the country’s remaining 29 Micronesian Kingfishers and sent them to zoological institutions around the globe—including the National Zoo—as a hedge against extinction. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums created a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the birds. The SSP pairs males and females in order to maintain a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population in captivity.

As the captive population increases, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Guam’s Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources continue to look for suitable release sites in Guam. The availability of release sites continues to shrink, however, due to deforestation and human expansion. Controlling the brown snake population remains a significant challenge as well. Scientists are hopeful that initiatives for snake control and forest protection signify that the reintroduction of the Micronesian Kingfisher may soon become feasible. Additionally, field studies of a different subspecies of wild kingfishers are underway on Pohnpei, another Micronesian island, to secure essential biological information on wild populations and to test various reintroduction techniques for use on Guam.