WASHINGTON -- The capital region’s newest celebrity is no bigger than a stick of butter.
The National Zoo’s female giant panda gave birth Sunday night, generating panda-monium in a city that has adored the rare creatures since the first pandas arrived in the wake of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 groundbreaking trip to Beijing.
Zoo officials think they caught a glimpse, via panda cam, of the unnamed cub being clutched tightly by its mother, Mei Xiang (pronounced may-SHONG), but got confirmation of its arrival via loud squealing.
“The only way to see the cub will be via the Web cam for a while. Mei and the cub need quiet,” the zoo tweeted Monday. The panda cam, available for public viewing, was being overwhelmed, according to Devin Murphy, a zoo spokeswoman, “because there are so many people trying to look at them.”
The exhibit featuring Mei Xiang and Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), loaned by China in 2000 until 2015, is among the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
The baby was born at 10:46 pm. Eastern time Sunday. Mei Xiang had been artificially inseminated in April with sperm collected and frozen from Tian Tian in 2005. Mei Xiang, now 14, gave birth to her first cub, Tai Shan, in 2005. Tai Shan was sent to China in 2010.
Veterinarians will perform the first physical exam in a few weeks, after mother and cub have had time to bond, zoo officials said.
“It’s a very loud little cub, which our veterinarian team reports is an excellent indication of good health,” Murphy said.
The latest baby belongs to China and will be returned there, probably after four years. In return for the pandas on loan, the zoo contributes $550,000 a year to China for panda preservation programs. Only three other U.S. zoos have pandas: San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis.
There are thought to be only about 1,600 giant pandas remaining in the wild.
The panda’s birth come on a day when economic tensions between China and the U.S. escalated. President Obama was set to announce Monday that the U.S. is complaining to the World Trade Organization that China is illegally subsidizing exports of automobiles and auto parts; China in turn was expected to file its own complaint against U.S. tariffs.