Lun Lun, a 15-year-old giant panda, gave birth to twins on Monday. The first of the tiny duo arrived at 6:21 p.m., and its twin followed at 6:23 p.m. The cubs are the first giant pandas to be born in the U.S. in 2013 and the first twins to be born in the U.S. since 1987.
The Animal Management and Veterinary Teams are currently caring for one of the cubs in the nursery unit in the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Giant Panda Center; Lun Lun is currently caring for the other. Assisting Zoo Atlanta staff is an animal care colleague from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding where Lun Lun and Yang Yang were born. Lun Lun is an experienced and capable mother, but she has never before given birth to twins, which are not unusual in her species.
"The panda team is tired and a little stressed, but happy," curator of mammals Rebecca Snyder said. "So far, both cubs are doing well. We are fortunate that both were born a healthy weight and strong. Sometimes one twin is very small."
In the wild, giant panda mothers typically care for only one cub when twins are born. Thus, it is normal in the wild for only one of the twins to survive. Giant panda twins have survived in zoos within and outside of China. Usually this is accomplished by rotating the cubs with the mother for the first few months. However, giant pandas are born very tiny, and there is a high risk of mortality in the first few months. This risk increases in twins, which tend to have lower birth rates than do single cubs.
"Lun Lun is a fantastic mom, and she's even more impressive this time," Snyder said. "The cubs are being alternated with her, which is a technique first developed by our colleagues in Chengdu and used successfully for many cubs. Lun Lun is such a good mom, though, that she is reluctant to give up whichever cub she has. So, we have not been able to swap the cubs as frequently as we would like. Because of that, both have been supplemented with some formula. Both are doing well with this. Their condition and Lun Lun's behavior will continue to guide our actions. The next few days are especially critical. So, please continue to keep us in your thoughts. We can use the good vibes!"
Zoo Atlanta Members and guests can expect to meet the cubs in late fall. The newborns’ father, 15-year-old Yang Yang, and older brothers Xi Lan, 4, and Po, 2, remain on exhibit and will not be housed with Lun Lun or the cubs. This separation is normal for giant pandas, which are solitary in the wild.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Lun Lun’s and Yang Yang’s twins. This is a success we share with all of our fellow zoological organizations working to understand and protect this iconic species, and we share our joy with our local community and with our colleagues in China,” said Raymond B. King, president and CEO. “Twins are an entirely new scenario for Lun Lun, Zoo Atlanta and our animal care teams, who will no doubt be extremely busy over the next few months.”
The cubs are the fourth and fifth giant pandas born at Zoo Atlanta. The first cub, Mei Lan, was born in September 2006. A resident of China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding since 2010, Mei Lan was the first of the pair’s offspring to return to his parents’ native country. All five of Lun Lun’s and Yang Yang’s cubs have been products of artificial insemination.
Fewer than 1,600 giant pandas are believed to remain in the wild, where funds from Zoo Atlanta are used to support giant pandas living in eight different nature reserves in China. In 2012, Zoo Atlanta received the distinguished International Conservation Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its long-term commitment to the species.
Follow the cubs’ milestones on PandaCam presented by EarthCam on www.zooatlanta.org/pandacam and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.