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Baby Panda at San Diego Zoo survives critical first hours

Updated:
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The first-time mother cradled her newborn to
her chest, listening intently for any squeals from the tiny bundle.

In a nearby room, San Diego Zoo keepers quietly cheered the
scene showing the first hours in the life of the first giant panda
born in the Western Hemisphere in nearly a decade.

The infant, born Saturday, survived the critical first 24 hours
as its mother appeared to be feeding it regularly and tending to it
with care. Bai Yun, a 213-pound giant panda on loan from China, did
not leave her den to get food or water or relieve herself, taking
time for only a 45-minute nap during her first day with the cub.

"We have passed a critical point," Don Lindburg, the zoo's
giant panda team leader. "Each day that goes by is better. The
older it gets, the better the chances."

The baby panda continued to do well this morning, said zoo
spokesman Ted Molter.

BIrths for pandas in captivity are rare. Only four other pandas
have been born in the United States, the most recent in 1989. All
were born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and all of them
failed to survive.

Biologists celebrated the birth as a significant event that
could motivate people to help reverse the decline in population of
the endangered giant pandas. There are fewer than 1,000 pandas
remaining in the bamboo forests of China -- which are shrinking
because of encroaching development -- and about 110 pandas in
captivity.

The last birth of a giant panda in the Western Hemisphere was in
1990 at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, but the cub died on the
eighth day. The newborn was accidentally crushed by its mother, who
biologists believe was upset at a constant stream of visits from
celebrities and others, Lindburg said.

To prevent the same thing from happening, San Diego Zoo
officials are keeping their distance to give the mother and cub
peace and solitude. The zoo's panda exhibit and surrounding areas
have also been closed to the public indefinitely until biologists
are satisfied the infant is out of danger.

For now, only brief glimpses can be seen of the small pinkish
cub in its mother's large paws. Its features are largely
unrecognizable as it gains weight slowly and develops its
distinctive white-and-black pigmentation.

Bai Yun gave birth shortly before noon Saturday. She was
artificially inseminated in April after several unsuccessful tries
to mate her with Shi Shi, a male panda also on loan from China.

Surviving offspring of Bai Yun and Shi Shi are to be returned to
China when they reach the age of 3.

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