Washington zoo welcomes baby panda

Mei Xiang, the panda, chews some bamboo

A giant panda at a zoo in the United States has given birth to a cub.

Keepers at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC only discovered Mei Xiang was pregnant during an ultrasound scan last week.

Giant pandas are one of the most endangered species in the world and are notoriously hard to breed in captivity.

The National Zoo is one of only four zoos in the US to have pandas, which are on loan from China.

Mei Xiang, who has two other offspring, is one of the zoo’s star attractions and a Panda Cam on her enclosure crashed within seconds of the birth being announced because of the volume of interest.

Female pandas are able to conceive for only two or three days a year, leading to a very low reproduction rate.

Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated with sperm from the zoo’s resident male Tian Tian and a panda named Hui Hui from Wolong, China.

It will not be known for a while whether the cub is male or female.

It has previously taken months before Mei Xiang’s cubs have been introduced to the public.

The panda population is threatened by habitat loss as land is increasingly inhabited by humans, with about 1,800 pandas left in the wild in China.

However, the number living in the wild in China has gone up over the last 10 years.

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