A giant panda gave birth to two cubs hours apart on Saturday at Washington D.C.’s National Zoo, and staff members are helping her adjust to life with newborn twins.
The panda and star tourist attraction, Mei Xiang, surprised the staff by giving birth to the twins four-and-a-half hours apart, Reuters reports. Mei Xiang had been artificially inseminated.
Zoo director Dennis Kelly said that “this is very exciting news, and a bit of a surprise, although we were prepared.” Giant pandas usually have twins or triplets, and the zoo has an incubator on standby in case, according to Washington Post.
It was not an easy day for Mei Xiang. Giant panda biologist Laurie Thompson said that staff members monitored the panda to see if she was strong enough to pick up the second cub on her own.
Thompson told reporters that she was “really struggling.” “She was trying but she wasn’t able to pick up both of the cubs … At the right moment, we were able to go in and grab one of the cubs and take it out safely when Mei Xiang was not really close to it,” Thompson said.
One cub was placed on an incubator. That cub was the larger of the two, weighing 138 grams. Kelly said that the cub was returned to the mother around 6:30 a.m. and the first cub was taken in for examination. The first cub weighed 86 grams.
The zoo’s chief veterinarian, Don Neiffer, said that both cubs were squirming, vocal and active during their examinations. They have fine white hair, their ears are “nubs” and their eyes are still not open, Neiffer said.
The zoo said that it is difficult for a mother to carry two cubs. Often, they let the second cub die. Thankfully, that was not the case!
The zoo revealed that it was the third time giant panda twins have been born at a zoo in the U.S. Giant panda Ling-Ling gave birth to twins at the National Zoo decades ago, but they did not survive.
Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated on April 26 and 27 with frozen sperm from a panda in China and fresh sperm from National’s Tian Tian. A fetus was detected on April 19, according to Reuters.
This is not Mei Xiang’s first experience with birth. She gave birth to two surviving cubs, Tai Chain in 2005 and Bao Bao in 2013. Bao Bao is celebrating his second birthday Sunday.
Giant pandas are one of the most endangered species in the world. There are approximately 1,600 giant pandas to be living in the wild and about 300 in captivity. Their natural habitat lies within a few mountain ranges in China.