he giant panda cub born a week ago at the National Zoo in Washington died Sunday morning, saddening zoo officials and visitors who had heralded its unexpected arrival.
The 4-ounce cub, about the size of a stick of butter, showed no obvious signs of distress and made its final recorded noise shortly before 9 a.m. Sunday, zoo officials said at a news conference.
The cub's mother, Mei Xiang, then made an unusual honking sound at 9:17 a.m. that her keepers interpreted as a distress call, and she moved away from where she had been nesting with the cub. About an hour later, one keeper distracted her with honey water while another used an instrument similar to a lacrosse stick to pick up the cub.
The new cub, born Sept. 16, had been a surprise at the zoo. Fourteen-year-old Mei Xiang had five failed pregnancies before giving birth.
Panda mothers are about 1,000 times heavier than their cubs, and sometimes they accidentally crush them.
On any given day in the first two weeks of life, cubs have a mortality rate of 17 to 18 percent, zoo officials said.
"The cub was just beautiful. Beautiful little body, beautiful face, with markings just beginning to show around the eye," Murray said.
The zoo's first panda couple, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, had five cubs during the 1980s, but none lived more than a few days. One of the cubs was stillborn; two others died of pneumonia within a day; another died from lack of oxygen after birth; and the final cub died of an infection after four days.