America’s New Panda Twins
Last week, at a zoo in Georgia, panda mom Lun Lun gave birth to the first twin cubs born in the U.S. since 1987
The two giant pandas born last week at Georgia’s Zoo Atlanta don’t yet look very giant. But the tiny twins were big news for Americans. They are the first pair of giant panda twins born in the United States in more than 25 years.
Zoo caretakers were pleasantly surprised. Until the second cub was born, workers at the zoo had no idea that the pregnant mother, a 15-year-old named Lun Lun, was carrying two babies.
“This is a success we share with all of our fellow zoological organizations working to understand and protect this iconic species,” says Raymond B. King, president and chief executive officer of Zoo Atlanta.
Successful panda births in zoos are rare. Today, fewer than 2,000 giant pandas remain. About 300 of them are in zoos or breeding centers around the world. They are classified as endangered, one of the reasons that caretakers at Zoo Atlanta are working around the clock to help the twins grow big and strong.
In the wild, giant pandas live in the bamboo forests in the mountains of southwestern China. The animals were once common there and in neighboring Burma and Vietnam. But habitat destruction has limited the pandas’ habitat to about 20 pockets of mountain forest.
Lun Lun gave birth to the twins about two minutes apart. Panda twins are very small—just three to five ounces. In time, they’ll grow to weigh about 250 pounds. They are pink-colored now, but in a couple of weeks they’ll start getting the distinctive black-and-white fur pandas are known for.
Panda twins are actually common in the wild. But because panda moms have trouble taking care of twins, usually only one cub survives. The zoo has a plan to make sure both cubs stay healthy. Sometimes caretakers will care for one cub while Lun Lun feeds the other. The twins will be alternated frequently to make sure both get plenty of food from mom.
“If we’re not able to swap them out as frequently as we want to,” says Rebecca Snyder, the zoo’s curator of mammals, “then we’ll supplement them with a little bit of formula to make sure they’re getting enough to eat.”
The zoo says the twin cubs will not be named until at least their hundredth day, in accordance with Chinese tradition. The mother and cubs will then join their father, Yang Yang, and two brothers, Xi Lan and Po, at the zoo.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Zoo has an online panda cam set up so people can see the fuzzy cubs as they grow.