Mei Xiang, the Smithsonian National Zoo’s giant panda, has given birth to two baby panda cubs. Unfortunately, in the past, some of Mei Xiang’s babies have not survived, but the zookeepers feel confident that this time they will live to full maturity.
In a related report by the Inquisitr, a video showed one of the National Zoo’s giant panda cubs encountering snow for the first time.
The two parents of the new baby pandas are Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who are on loan from the People’s Republic of China. The two giant pandas are kept apart by a screen mesh, and the baby pandas live in the same enclosure as their mother.
Starting in 2013, Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated using fresh and frozen sperm from Tian Tian, and a male giant panda named Hui Hui that lives at the China conservation and research center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province. The insemination was performed by vets from both the National Zoo and China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, since they considered Mei Xiang’s mate to be a “clueless breeder with flawed technique.”
Unfortunately, Mei Xiang’s history as a mother is just as bad as the father’s history of unsuccessful mating. Although Mei Xiang has given birth to three panda cubs in the past, one was stillborn, and another died only six weeks after birth.
At the time, Dr. Suzan Murray, the zoo’s chief vet, said the National Zoo’s giant panda cub died due to a lack of oxygen, which contributed to liver damage.
“This is most likely due to the lungs that were not fully formed, that were impeding the flow, the proper absorption of oxygen, which then led to the death of the liver cells,” she explained. “There were no signs of internal or external trauma. The final necropsy determined that lung and liver damage ultimately caused the cub’s death. Her lungs were poorly developed and likely caused her to have insufficient oxygen, which would be consistent with the changes in the liver.”
The mortality rate for giant pandas in their first year in captivity is estimated to be 26 percent for males and 20 percent for females. Officials are optimistic that the National Zoo’s giant panda cubs will survive this time around. They have adopted a technique developed by panda breeders in China, where the two cubs will be swapped out with Mei Xiang in order to give both a chance to nurse and bond with their mother.
According to the Associated Press, National Zoo director Dennis Kelly says the survival rate for their giant panda cubs has greatly improved with Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. As a comparison, the National Zoo’s giant panda couple used to be Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing. During the 1980s, the giant pandas had five cubs together, but none of them lived beyond a week. One of the giant panda cubs was stillborn, two more died from pneumonia, another from lack of oxygen, and their final cub passed away from an infection after just four days.
But zoo officials are confident this time will be different.
“All of us are thrilled that Mei Xiang has given birth,” Kelly said, according to the Guardian. “We know Mei is an excellent mother.”
— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) August 23, 2015
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]