Now you’ve got two more reasons to visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo: Twin giant panda cubs. Officials issued a press release confirming the first giant panda cub born at 5:35 p.m. Saturday and a second giant panda cub was born several hours later at 10:07 p.m., much to the delight of zookeepers and visitors alike.
The zoo’s panda team retrieved one cub from the mother, Mei Xiang, Saturday evening. This animal, believed to be the youngest, continues to vocalize very well and appears healthy according to zoo reports. This cub has been marked with a little green food coloring on its left hip to help the panda team differentiate the twins. Early Sunday, the panda team was able to swap cubs, retrieving what was believed to be the first-born. That cub will also be returned to its mom before long.
The panda team will alternately swap the cubs, allowing one to nurse and spend time with Mei Xiang while the other is being bottle fed and kept warm in an incubator. The primary goal for the panda team is for both cubs to have the benefit of nursing and spending time with their mother. It is too early to guess about when the cubs will be placed together.
“All of us are thrilled that Mei Xiang has given birth. The cub is vulnerable at this tiny size but we know Mei is an excellent mother,” said Zoo director Dennis Kelly.”Thank you to all of our excellent keepers, veterinarians, researchers and Chinese colleagues who contributed and therefore deserve credit for this conservation success.”
Veterinarians first detected evidence of a fetus on an ultrasound Aug. 19. It was the first time they had ever seen a fetus on an ultrasound, as Mei Xiang usually chooses not to participate in ultrasounds in the final weeks of her pregnancies and pseudopregnancies. At the time, the fetus was about 4 centimeters in length. The genders of the cubs are not yet known.
Reproductive scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute artificially inseminated Mei Xiang April 26 and 27. For the first time, scientists used semen collected from a giant panda named Hui Hui, who lives at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong. Hui Hui was determined to be one of the best genetic matches for Mei Xiang. Zoo officials said a cub by Mei Xiang and Hui Hui would be very genetically valuable, helping to preserve the genetic diversity of the panda population in human care.
The Zoo will continue to provide daily updates on Mei Xiang through its @SmithsonianZoo Instagram account using hashtag PandaStory, and the Giant Panda e-newsletter.