WASHINGTON (KRON/AP) — The National Zoo says twin panda cubs born Saturday are doing well, but it was a rough night for their caretakers.
Because pandas won’t usually nurse twins if left to their own devices, zoo officials are following a procedure developed by Chinese breeders. Panda mom Mei Xiang gets to nurse and bond with one cub at a time. The other cub is kept in an incubator. Every several hours, the cubs are swapped.
The zoo said Monday that when caretakers tried to swap the cubs late Sunday, Mei Xiang would not set down the cub she was holding. As a result, the team cared for the smaller cub, feeding it with a bottle and through a feeding tube, until about 7 a.m. Monday when a successful swap was made.
The arrival of the cubs is cause for huge celebration at the zoo. More cubs born at the zoo have died than survived. Pandas are endangered with roughly 1,800 living in the wild and 350 in captivity.
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the pandas pair lent to the United States by China after Richard Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, successfully mated five times, but none of the cubs lived longer than a few days. In 2012, Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub that died after six days.
Mei Xiang has given birth to two surviving cubs: Tai Shan, a male born in 2005, and Bao Bao, who turned 2 on Sunday and put on a show for hundreds of delirious panda watchers as she devoured her “birthday cake”: a frozen concoction made with honey, apples, carrots and bamboo.
The new additions mean that for the first time the zoo has five pandas in residence. In addition to Bao Bao, Mei Xiang and the new cubs, the zoo is also home to an adult male panda named Tian Tian.
Over the next few weeks, zoo staffers hope to develop a routine for swapping the cubs and monitoring their growth.