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'Big Milestone' | Watch DC's National Zoo give first examination to giant panda cub

It's been one month since the giant panda cub was born, and the examination was an opportunity for them to check how the little one was doing.

WASHINGTON — A mother separated from her child is mostly never good. But the National Zoo in Washington D.C. took the opportunity to make sure the giant panda cub born on August 21 was doing well. 

Mei Xiang, who gave birth to the little one, left her den recently, and it gave zookeepers and veterinarians the much needed time to get health data on the cub.

A video of the examination was released Monday via the National Zoo's Twitter account. 

The cub weighs 952 grams, or just over two pounds. It is also 34 centimeters, or 13.4 inches tall, from nose to tail tip, according to the National Zoo.

The cub's eyes are still closed, which according to the National Zoo is common. Most giant panda cubs don't open their eyes until six to eight weeks after birth. The National Zoo does believe the left eye may open soon, but it not sure exactly when that could happen.

Another process of the examination was to figure out the sex of the panda cub, something that is not noticeable at such a young age. A lab test will be run to determine this, according to the National Zoo.

The National Zoo said that the cub was placed back in the den with Mei Xiang, who first groomed the cub after its return from the examination.

Here is what we still look to learn about the panda:

What is the next milestone keepers are looking for?

The opening of the cub's eyes, which typically happens when the cub is between 6-8 weeks.

"In another few weeks, its eyes and ear canals will begin to open," Thompon said. 

When is the cub considered "out of the woods" healthwise?

Thompson said this answer really varies based on who you ask.

"Because we did lose a cub in the first week, we aren’t comfortable until a month old, really," she said

Do keepers know if the cub is male or female?

Not yet. Outwardly, cubs appear similar at birth, thus a DNA test is the most accurate way to determine the cub's sex. Keepers are waiting for Mei Xiang to feel comfortable leaving her cub alone for longer periods of time before they perform a full veterinary exam, so they don't risk agitating her. 

"In the near future, the Zoo’s veterinary team will join us to perform a full medical exam on the cub," Thompson said. "We also hope to take a cheek swab soon, which will enable our scientists to confirm the cub’s sex via DNA analysis." 

Does the cub have a name yet?

According to Chinese tradition, panda cubs are named at 100 days old. Thompson said it has varied as to when and how they have named cubs in the East, though. 

"Sometimes we have naming ceremonies, but that's not always the case, and we really don't know how things will play out given the restrictions of the pandemic," Thompson said.

Why is a panda cub called a 'butterstick'? 

This popular panda moniker started after the birth of the first panda cub at the National Zoo, Tai Shan, referring to his weight, which a zookeeper at the time described as "about the size of a stick of butter." Butterstick became a popular name among bloggers chronicling the cub's existence. 

"The average panda cub weighs around 4 ounces at birth," Thompson said. "I guess they are kind of similar in length to a butterstick, too." 

Has anything gone differently for Mei Xiang with this cub?

With this birth, keepers said the cub has allowed her to rest more. 

"Other cubs have not let her lie down for many days," Thompson said. "She has to stay sitting up, that's the only time they are quiet. But she's been able to find a position for her cub where she's able to lie down flat, putting the cub in between her forearms, and resting."

To learn more about the examination done by the National Zoo, click here.

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