The impending birth of a panda at the National Zoo was so great on Saturday that the famous "panda cam" crashed its Web page. The pregnancy was only noticed until just a few days ago. By Saturday, Mei Xiang the giant panda was showing signs of preparing to give birth. At 5:35 p.m. a new panda joined the zoo and at 10:07 p.m. a second cub did, too!
Panda babies are born pink, hairless and blind. Baby pandas are amazingly small. Each cub weighs only about 3 ½ ounces (100 grams) at birth. No other mammal gives birth to a baby so much smaller than the adult of its species—except marsupials, such as kangaroos, whose newborn babies live in the mother's pouch until they are more fully developed.
The sex of the newborns won't be determined until later, and the names will come sometime after that. Two of Mei's previous cubs have lived past infancy, 10-year-old Tai Shan and 2-year-old Bao Bao.
Giant pandas often have twins and sometimes triplets. The zoo said it was only the third time that giant panda twins have been born in a U.S. zoo.
After the second cub was born Saturday night, the zoo contacted panda colleagues in China to let them know and ask for advice. The Chinese have many more pandas in captivity and much more experience with cubs. They said it’s often difficult for a mother panda to care for two babies. The mother swill rear one and let the other die, the zoo said.
Officials said it was clear that Mei Xiang was having trouble focusing on both cubs. So curators late Saturday night took the second cub born from her to give it a quick examination and to feed it some serum previously drawn from the mother that contained antibodies.
Giant panda biologist Laurie Thompson said: “Our goal is for each one of these cubs to spend precious time with their moms, nursing and getting all the nutrients that they need to grow. What we are trying to do is swap the cubs and have each have time with mom, while the other one is kept warm in an incubator.” She said, “right now Mei Xiang is doing a great job with the cubs, one at a time. She’s nursing the Cubs and taking care of them, as she always does.”
Pandas are among the rarest animals in the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, giant pandas are considered an endangered species. There are less than 2,500 pandas left in the wild, most of which are confined to the south-central region of China.
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