Mei Xiang, the giant panda at Washington's National Zoo who lost her cub yesterday, "was a good mom who protected her cub and did not crush her," says the zoo’s chief veterinarian today. Preliminary necropsy findings did not reveal a cause of death, but did indicate that the tiny 6-day-old cub, a girl, had excess fluid in her abdomen and that parts of her liver were hard or had strange coloring, ABC News reports. She appeared to have been nursing successfully before her death. Additional tests could identify a cause of death within a week, the Washington Post adds. Mei Xiang seems to be coping, but is cradling a toy in place of her cub, which indicates she still sees herself as a mother. As for the cub's father, Tian Tian is "blissfully unaware" of the death, the chief vet says.
Zookeepers had been hearing the cub's healthy squeals for a week, but when they heard Mei Xiang's distressed cries, they knew something was very wrong. They distracted Mei Xiang by splashing honey water and retrieved the cub. A vet attempted to intubate the cub, but her airway was too small, so the vet massaged her heart for 10 minutes before it became clear she would not revive. "The cub was just beautiful," says an emotional chief vet. "Beautiful little body. Beautiful face, with the markings just beginning to show around the eye. Couldn’t have been more beautiful." The zoo director says the entire staff is grieving, and calls the loss "devastating." The cub had not been given a name, in keeping with Chinese tradition, and will not be named posthumously, the AP notes. (Read more panda stories.)