National Zoo's giant panda Mei Xiang gives birth to twin cubs

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Aug. 23, 2015 at 10:44 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- The National Zoo's female giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth Saturday to twin baby pandas that are seemingly healthy in Washington D.C.

The twin births came less than five hours apart. A team of panda biologists, zoo keepers and veterinarians were there to assist Mei Xiang and the baby pandas.

"Mei Xiang always throws us for a loop," one National Zoo team member said at a press conference Sunday morning, adding that the exhausted team is going "on adrenaline," according to the Smithsonian.

Panda pregnancies are difficult to detect due to the animal mimicking the behaviors and hormones associated with being pregnant. The only concrete way of confirming a pregnancy is to see a fetus on an ultrasound, but a giant panda fetus does not start developing until the final weeks of gestation, according to the National Zoo.

Veterinarians inseminated Mei Xiang once on April 26 and again April 27 using semen collected from two male giant pandas -- Hui Hui from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, China, and Tian Tian from the National Zoo.

The zoo will confirm the father through a DNA test. Both cubs seem healthy after preliminary screenings.

The team said they saw Mei Xiang struggle with managing the two cubs, so one was taken and weighed. The babies will be swapped out so they can both nurse from mom.

"Per 'panda twin protocol' it was pulled and placed in incubator. Pandas often have twins but can only care for one cub at a time," the National Zoo said. "Animal care staff will carefully swap out each cub from time to time so both will have time with their mother."

Mei Xiang has previously given birth to two surviving cubs: Tai Shan in 2005 and Bao Bao in 2013. The older cub now lives in China and Bao Bao, who turns 2 on Sunday, shares a habitat with her mother.

The births were captured on the Zoo's "panda cam." The video of the first birth is seen below:

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