WASHINGTON -- For a few terrifying minutes, keepers at the National Zoo thought their precious day-old giant panda cub might be dead.
The zoo's panda cameras appeared to show the vibrant, squirming cub of Friday lying silent and unresponsive Saturday on the abdomen of its mother, Mei Xiang.
Memories of the death last September of the zoo's 6-day-old panda cub came flooding back.
Then the keepers heard robust squealing coming from elsewhere. They realized -- to their joy and sorrow -- that what they were seeing on camera wasn't the first cub, but the stillborn body of a second cub.
"In the circle of life there are always joys and sadnesses," Don Moore, the zoo's associate director of animal care sciences, said yesterday.
As zoo officials recounted the tense moments of Saturday night, senior curator Brandie Smith teared up as she told of the "five minutes of pure terror," followed by relief when they realized what had happened.
When the dead cub was first spotted, "there was full-blown panic," Smith said. Keepers had not seen the second cub's birth. "All we saw was a cub that was not moving," she said.
"I know a lot of people that are very sad about the stillbirth of the second cub," she said at a news briefing Sunday at the zoo. "But I have to say that [after] those moments of pure sorrow and panic, especially after last year, I have nothing but joy that we have one cub that is very healthy and doing well. I am full of joy and happiness this morning," Smith said.
The whole time, Mei Xiang had the first cub tucked under her arm, where keepers didn't notice it until it squealed.
-- The Washington Post