Finicky Panda Mei Xiang Neglects Littlest Of Her Twins, Vets Working Hard To Keep It Alive

New panda mom Mei Xiang, who gave birth to twins this weekend with much celebration, has abandoned the smaller of her two cubs.

The panda twins were born at the National Zoo and officials there began a previously successful regimen of care to ensure that both get the same amount of mommy bonding and nursing time, the Smithsonian announced.

That regimen requires a bit of trickery. Handlers want Mei Xiang to release one cub so they can give her the other, and they do this by distracting her with something she wants or even a recording of the other babies’ cry. In this way, the newborns can take turns.

This method has worked with other panda cubs in the past, NBC4 Washington added. Vets at the zoo have been able to switch the twins a couple of times, and while one was nestled in mom’s arms, the other spent some time in an incubator, feeding on a combo of baby formula, puppy formula, and water.

The harsh reality is that in the wild, pandas that give birth to twins often favor one over the other, which is left to die. And unfortunately, that is exactly what Mei Xiang is doing.

Zoo officials have said the panda is “not a willing participant,” and she is keeping the larger cub close. One is quite a bit smaller than the other; the twins are 138 grams and 86 grams.

They will continue to tempt Mei Xiang with a swap of her twins for as long they need to. Right now, they’re a little worried about the little cub’s health, though it is “peeing and pooping and eating and keeping warm.”

Vets are most worried about signs of respiratory distress, but so far, so good. The smaller cub’s weight has been going up and down, and officials have responded by feeding it with a bottle and tube and pumping it full of needed antibiotics. Every four hours, they try to convince Mei Xiang to trade twins.

Although she’s abandoned the little one, which does seem a bit cruel, it is after all what a panda mom will do in the wild. And the one that she has favored is being given the best of care by mom. Officials said she is a “good mother.”

And she’s been in this boat before. Mei Xiang has had four cubs, two of which — a male and female — are still alive. Male Tai Shan was born at the zoo and lives in China, and female Bao Bao still lives there. This is Mei Xiang’s second of twins — Bao Bao was also a twin.

[Photo Courtesy Smithsonian Handout/Getty Images]

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