Liver failure related to an insufficient supply of oxygen caused the death of the giant panda cub last month at the National Zoo, officials said Thursday.
Chief veterinarian Suzan Murray said a necropsy showed that the tiny cub’s lungs were not fully formed. That impeded the flow of oxygen, leading to liver necrosis, or the death of liver cells.
Murray said it was possible the cub had been born prematurely, but it is difficult to determine exactly when the embryo was formed. The animal’s birth Sept. 16 came as something of a surprise, because a pregnancy had not been confirmed.
Zoo officials said the cub, a female, had fluid in its abdomen and its liver was hard in some places, probably caused by the lack of oxygen. Officials said there was no sign of internal or external trauma.
Since the cub’s death on Sept. 23, its mother, Mei Xiang, has nearly resumed her normal diet of bamboo, fruit, vegetables and biscuits, said Don Moore, associate director of animal care at the National Zoo. She is eating about 80 to 85 percent of what she eats normally when she is not pregnant, he said, and she has shed almost one-tenth of the 240 pounds she weighed before pregnancy. She now weighs 220.