Washington's baby panda is a boy, zoo says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It's a boy -- a quick peek at the baby panda born last month at Washington's National Zoo showed it is a male, the zoo said on Tuesday.

Curious veterinarians at the Smithsonian National Zoo lured giant panda Mei Xiang out of her den with a bamboo snack and sneaked a look at her cub, which was born July 9.

The cub is now 12 inches (30 cm) long and weighs 1.8 pounds (825.7 grams), the zoo said in a statement.

Veterinarian Sharon Deem was also able to listen to its heart and breathing and said he sounded healthy.

The popular giant pandas are endangered and notoriously difficult to breed.

Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated on March 11, and a careful pregnancy and birth watch ensued. Until now, the new mother has been left undisturbed with her cub so as not to interfere with bonding.

Surveillance cameras have been used to monitor her behavior and to provide glimpses of the helpless baby panda.

Mei Xiang and the cub's father, Tian Tian, are on a 10-year loan to the zoo from their native China. Under the agreement, the cub will be sent to China after it is weaned in a year or two.

Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the zoo's previous pair of pandas, which are related to raccoons, produced five cubs between 1983 and 1989 but all of them died within days.

A second U.S. panda, at the San Diego Zoo, is pregnant with twins, zoo officials there say.

Bai Yun gave birth in 1999 to a female cub, Hua Mei, the first surviving giant panda to have been born in the United States.

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