Panda Twins Face 4 Big Threats to Survival

SCIENCE

Now that Washington, D.C.’s panda has surprised the world with twin cubs, zoo staff are working ’round the clock to help the babies through their first fragile weeks of life. (Nat Geo News)

Learn about pandas from Nat Geo Kids, then click on China in our “GIS in Action” interactive to learn more about the threats they face.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Welcome the first (left) and second twins born to Mei Xiang, the panda matriarch at the National Zoo. When will they get cute? Well, according to Zoo Atlanta (they also have twins), the cubs will get a characteristic black-and-white coat at about 25 days, grow to about 22 inches by 60 days, and their eyes will open at about 75 days. Their names will be announced when they’re 100 days old. Photograph by Pamela Baker-Masson, Smithsonian's National Zoo. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Welcome the first (left) and second twins born to Mei Xiang, the panda matriarch at the National Zoo. When will they get cute? Well, according to Zoo Atlanta (they also have twins), the cubs will get a characteristic black-and-white coat at about 25 days, grow to about 22 inches by 60 days, and their eyes will open at about 75 days. Their names will be announced when they’re 100 days old.
Photograph by Pamela Baker-Masson, Smithsonian’s National Zoo. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Discussion Ideas

  • According to Nat Geo News, the first big hurdle the newborn pandas face is that “Cubs are very needy and vulnerable at birth.” How are the good folks at the National Zoo making sure the cubs are protected?
    • Lots of work! The twins, born to teen mom Mei Xiang, were a (happy!) surprise to zookeepers, who found out their panda was pregnant only days before she gave birth. Since then, zookeepers and panda experts have monitored the twins to make sure they’re healthy. In particular:
      • They’re hand-feeding the twins a special type of formula. Panda-cub chow includes water, human baby formula, and puppy formula all mixed together and strained to avoid clumps.
      • Vets are on call 24/7 just in case either of the twins develops lung or liver problems.

 

  • The second big hurdle the pandas face is “Twins require special care.” Panda moms, who have twins about half the time in the wild, usually abandon the weaker cub. How are the good folks at the National Zoo making sure both twins are cared for?
    • The zoo’s Giant Panda Twin Hand-Rearing protocol calls for “rotating the twins between mom and the incubator every few hours.” This strategy means that each baby will get enough time with Mei Xiang to be fed and cared for by her.

 

  • The third hurdle is the fact that “Panda mothers can accidentally crush their babies.” The twins were about 86 grams (.2 pound) and 138 grams (.3 pound). Mei Xiang is a whopping 105,687 grams (233 pounds). How are the good folks at the National Zoo making sure both twins are safe?
    • “By watching the zoo’s panda cams 24/7, zoo staff will keep a careful eye on the twins to make sure mom doesn’t accidentally harm them.” Use the Smithsonian’s Panda Cam to keep an eye on the twins, as well as mama Mei Xiang and big sister Bao Bao, yourself!

 

  • The final, and most difficult hurdle for the new panda twins is “They don’t have enough habitat.” What can any of us do to sustain or increase the habitat of giant pandas?
    • Understand what features are required for a giant panda reserve. Play our game “Giant Pandas: Into the Wild” to better understand how to make sure your reserve provides enough food, water, and shelter for your pandas.
    • Raise awareness about the threats facing pandas and other endangered species. Use our handy Mission: Animal Rescue toolkit for some guidance.
    • Donate to organizations that protect panda reserves by investing in:
      • border protection, to ensure no illegal logging or hunting takes place
      • community development, to limit the use of wood and bamboo from panda habitat
      • research and monitoring work, such as setting up night-vision cameras to record nocturnal activity in China’s panda reserves.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: These Newborn Pandas Face 4 Big Threats to Survival

Nat Geo: Giant Panda Facts and Pictures

Nat Geo: GIS in Action (China)

National Zoo: Panda Cam

National Zoo: Twin Giant Panda Cubs photo album

National Zoo: #PandaStory Instagram

Nat Geo: Pandas: Into the Wild game

Nat Geo: Mission: Animal Rescue toolkit

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