Update: Well, that was fast, Mei Xiang gave birth Friday evening, about two hours after going into labor.
According to the National Zoo, Mei Xiang immediately picked up the cub and began to cradle and care for it. The team monitoring the birth only got a quick glimpse of the cub, but they heard it vocalize right after it was born.
This is the third cub for Mei Xiang. Her first, in 2005, survived. But her second cub died six days after its birth in September, 2012.
Thanks to the National Zoo, you can watch the panda birth for yourself here:
Original post: Mei Xiang, the National Zoo's 15-year-old female giant panda, appears to have gone into labor. Her water broke earlier today, and the zoo thinks she might give birth later this evening — though the process could take up to 10 hours. And yes, there is a Panda Cam, where you can wait for the panda birth in high def:
Watch the panda cams now! Mei's water broke a short time ago and she's having contractions. She may give birth in a few hours #cubwatch— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) August 23, 2013
Armed with a comfort toy, Mei Xiang, who has had five false pregnancies and lost a newborn cub last September, might not even give birth after the whole process finishes, according to the Washington Post:
It is difficult to determine if a giant panda is pregnant because the animal goes through the same physiological stages whether it is bearing a cub or not.
The conclusive evidence, which could be coming soon, is either the arrival of a cub or the close of the period with no cub.
Researchers have trouble breeding pandas in captivity (maybe it's because we do things like stream videos of them online when they give birth!). Zoo officials have tried numerous approaches, including giving pandas porn, and researchers have had a bit more success in recent years. But still, giant panda births in captivity are extremely rare. According to the Post, Mei Xiang's had five false pregnancies before, but researchers are pretty optimistic about her pregnancy this time:
“The best indicator of somebody who’s going to give us a healthy panda is one who most recently had one,” zoo director Dennis Kelly said in an interview Aug. 20. “We’re cautiously optimistic that Mei Xiang will deliver a healthy cub, or two. We’re prepared for twins.”