News & Politics

Giant Panda Cub Bei Bei Undergoes Emergency Bowel Surgery

Photograph courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

Gastrointestinal blockage is a familiar sensation around Thanksgiving, and apparently, giant pandas are not immune. Bei Bei, the National Zoo’s one-year-old cub, spent Friday morning undergoing emergency surgery for bowel obstruction, the Smithsonian says in a press release.

Bei Bei exhibited signs of nausea and stomach discomfort on Thursday, and slept more than usual while not eating, despite being injected with an anti-nausea medication. When zookeepers checked in on the cub Friday morning and saw no improvement, the bear was taken to the zoo’s veterinary hospital for examination by a doctor from the Friendship Hospital for Animals. An ultrasound revealed a substantial mass blocking the top of Bei Bei’s small intestine. Emergency surgery was ordered after an endoscopic exam concluded the object would not pass naturally.

Bei Bei underwent “life-saving” surgery that led to the removal of a “lemon-sized” mass of masticated bamboo and was later returned to the zoo’s panda habitat, where he is expected to make a full recovery. The cub is being given water to start, and will next be put on a diet of soft foods, including sweet potatoes, pears, and ground-up biscuits before eventually transitioning back to bamboo.

During recovery, Bei Bei will be kept inside the panda habitat, off the panda cameras, and away from his mother, Mei Xiang. The indoor area of the panda exhibit will also be closed for several days, although the zoo’s three healthy pandas will be on display outside.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.