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A Closer Look At Baby Panda

It's a little early to tell if Bai Yun's third baby is a male or female. Born Aug. 2, the cub is so tiny and fragile, it will be about four months before the public can see it.

But The Early Show resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner got a peek at the new panda and a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to keep the San Diego Zoo giant pandas healthy and happy.

The first close-up look at this newest cub lasted just three minutes. It was a quick but noisy exam with the cub squeaking as it was being handled.

"I feel privileged to work with such a rare species," says San Diego Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Meg Sutherland-Smith.

As with her first and second cubs, born in 1999 and 2003, Bai Yun is bonding with her newborn and the giant panda team does not want to mess with Mother Nature.

"We wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize the health of that cub," Sutherland-Smith explains. "That baby is dependent on her for everything. That's her 24-hour around-the-clock job. It doesn't go off into a crib. It doesn't go into a hay pile while the mother goes off and does something else. She's there with it, holding it."

Experts at the San Diego Zoo are using state-of-the-art technology. All baby pandas are fragile, weighing only 4 ounces, compared to their 200-pound parents. So veterinarians were able to monitor Bai Yun's pregnancy daily through ultrasound until her delivery.

"Having the ability to confirm pregnancy with ultrasound has just been phenomenal," Sutherland-Smith says. "The size of a lentil — that's what they looked like on ultrasound — was a little lentil bean with a heartbeat.

Bai Yun had a specially built birthing den, but if she lived in the wild she would have built a nest in a hollow tree. There is no such privacy at the zoo, but her den provides plenty of protection and warmth for the baby.

Scientists will wait for Bai Yun to go out for a bite of bamboo and then continue charting the growth of the baby bear. Two years ago, its big brother Mei Sheng got the same treatment.

"We start getting measurements as soon as we can get our hands on the cub," Sutherland-Smith says. "We're very interested in documenting growth, which happens really fast."

Under an agreement with China, Bai Yun's cubs are only on loan and must be returned. So, scientists in San Diego have just a few years to learn all they can about these babies.

"I don't know if auto mechanics, when they get to work on a Ferrari, that's like, 'Whoo-hoo, it's a Ferrari,' but I guess, you could kind of say a Giant Panda is the Ferrari of the bear world."

With only about 1,600 pandas left in the wild, every birth is a success story. This is the second new panda born stateside this summer. The National Zoo in Washington celebrated a new arrival last month.