"Giant panda cubs, which are born nearly hairless, blind and barely larger than a cell phone, are some of the animal kingdom’s most fragile newborns, and their early days of life are critical. The Animal Management and Veterinary Teams will employ the same cub-swapping method used with success following the births of the cubs’ sisters, Mei Lun and Mei Huan, caring for one cub in a nursery unit while Lun Lun cares for the other. The cubs’ time with their mother will be rotated to ensure that both receive equal amounts of maternal care.
Mei Lun and Mei Huan at their 2013 naming ceremony. AJC file photo: Brant Sanderlin
Although twins are not unusual in giant pandas, the risk of infant mortality is higher in twins than in single-cub births. In the wild, giant panda mothers who give birth to twins generally care for only one cub, and it is normal in the wild for only one twin to survive. The cub-swapping approach allows the mother to provide care and feeding for both of her offspring without becoming overexerted.
Lun Lun with one of her cubs in 2013. AJC file photo: Brant Sanderlin
Lun Lun was artificially inseminated on March 28, 2016, and round-the-clock birthwatch began on August 22, 2016. Since the time of the artificial insemination, the Animal Management and Veterinary Teams have been conducting regular ultrasounds and monitoring Lun Lun’s behavior, as well as monitoring hormone analyses conducted by David Kersey, PhD, an expert in giant panda endocrinology from Western University of Health Sciences. The nursery care team is joined by two colleagues from the Zoo’s partner in giant panda conservation, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China.
Giant pandas are born nearly hairless and blind. Here's a 2013 file photo of the zoo's previous pair. AJC file photo: Brant Sanderlin
Giant pandas represent Zoo Atlanta’s most significant financial investment in conservation. Fewer than 1,900 giant pandas are estimated to remain in the wild in China’s Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, and more than 1,200 of these live inside nature reserves. Support from Zoo Atlanta benefits wild giant pandas living on eight of these reserves.
In 2012, Zoo Atlanta and partner organizations, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Memphis Zoo and San Diego Zoo Global, received the International Conservation Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for their commitment to the species. The award recognized exceptional efforts toward giant panda regional habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild.
Lun Lun and one of her new cubs. Photo: Zoo Atlanta
The cubs are the sixth and seventh giant pandas born at Zoo Atlanta. All of Lun Lun’s and Yang Yang’s cubs have been the result of artificial insemination. The pair’s first three offspring, male Mei Lan (born 2006), male Xi Lan (born 2008) and female Po (born 2010), now reside at the Chengdu Research Base. Their fourth and fifth offspring, females Mei Lun and Mei Huan (born 2013), reside at Zoo Atlanta and are now joined by their younger siblings as the only sets of giant panda twins in the U.S.
Zoo Atlanta Members and guests can expect to meet the cubs in December 2016 or January 2017.
Their father, 18-year-old Yang Yang, and 3-year-old sisters Mei Lun and Mei Huan remain in their usual habitats and will not be introduced to the cubs. This separation is normal for giant pandas, which are solitary in the wild."