Ling-Ling, the National Zoo's female giant panda, gave birth early today to a four-ounce cub, her third pregnancy and "best chance yet" to breed pandas successfully in the United States, officials said.
"Both mother and cub are doing well," zoo spokesman Mike Morgan said. "She is cradling the cub in her arms. It only weighs four ounces but it is surprisingly loud. It's kind of a whining call."
Ling-Ling, who along with her mate, Hsing-Hsing, were gifts to the United States from the Chinese government in 1972, gave birth at 3:33 a.m., Morgan said.
"It certainly has healthy lungs," Lisa Stevens, who is in charge of the panda exhibit, said at a news conference about seven hours after the birth.
Giant pandas are extremely difficult to breed in captivity and Ling-Ling, who weighs 245 pounds, has had two previous pregnancies. The first cub--the first born in the United States--died of pneumonia in 1983 after three hours. The second cub was stillborn a year later.
"We're all keeping our fingers crossed that it is going to stay healthy and do well," Morgan said. "This cub does look strong and we're all hopeful. This looks like our best chance yet."
Morgan said the cub is "about the size of a stick of butter" and "is covered with a very thin coat of white hair and its eyes are closed."
Stevens described the newborn as looking "very much like a rat" and said it will not be seen in public for at least four months.
Hsing-Hsing is in a separate enclosure from his mate and cub, whose sex has yet to be determined, Morgan said.
Ling-Ling, who is about 17 or 18 years old, was a gift from the Chinese government after President Nixon's historic 1972 visit to Peking. She and Hsing-Hsing, who is about a year younger than his mate, arrived at the National Zoo on April 16, 1972.
Giant pandas are solitary and pair only for breeding, which is difficult for them in captivity. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing live in separate quarters in the air-conditioned Panda House and are the zoo's most popular attractions.