Vets wake up in the middle of the night at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province. Pregnant panda Li Li is about to give birth, and the vets are there to assist and witness the moment. When a twin is born and ignored, the caregivers take action. While pandas give birth to twins in about half of pregnancies, panda mothers almost always devote milk and attention to only one baby to ensure its survival. These twins will require extra human care.
In these two clips from Natural World: Panda Makers (2010-2011), narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Chengdu’s team is seen swapping the twins between an incubator and their mother up to 10 times a day. It’s an innovative rearing strategy that increases their chances of staying healthy until adulthood. From Wikipedia:
When the cub is first born, it is pink, blind, and toothless, weighing only 90 to 130 grams (3.2 to 4.6 ounces), or about 1/800th of the mother’s weight, proportionally the smallest baby of any placental mammal. It nurses from its mother’s breast six to 14 times a day for up to 30 minutes at a time… One to two weeks after birth, the cub’s skin turns gray where its hair will eventually become black. A slight pink color may appear on cub’s fur, as a result of a chemical reaction between the fur and its mother’s saliva.
In the clip below, a keeper patiently swaps out the twins by distracting Li Li with a bowl of honey water so that the mother can care for both cubs as one.
Related reading: An update on Li Li’s “retirement” in January of 2018.Watch more birth videos on this site: A tiny newborn kangaroo climbs into its mother’s pouch and Calaya gives birth to baby gorilla Moke at The National Zoo. Plus: The three different ways mammals give birth.
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