Panda Babies Offer Hope
New arrivals for an endangered species
by Holly Hartman
Announcing: Panda Babies!
Born: twins, August 3; cub, August 6; twins and cub, August 8; twins, August 10
Homes: Beijing Zoo and Wolong Panda Reserve, China
Weight: each about 3 ½ ounces
Color: pink skin and white fur; black patches will start to develop in September
It's been a great summer for panda fans. Eight baby pandas were born in China in early August—hopeful news for a species threatened with extinction.
In the first two weeks of August 2000, four panda mothers at China's Wolong Panda Reserve produced a total of six tiny panda babies. During the same time, a panda named Lele at the Beijing Zoo had twins. No one knows how many pandas might have been born in the wild.
The Smallest of All
Baby pandas are amazingly small. Each cub weighs only about 3 ½ ounces (100 grams) at birth. No other mammal gives birth to a baby so much smaller than the adult of its species—except marsupials, such as kangaroos, whose newborn babies live in the mother's pouch until they are more fully developed.
A panda mother must carry her baby around very gently and take care of it until it is big enough to move around on its own. Pandas are known for being very careful and protective mothers. With such tiny babies, they have to be!
Newborn pandas cry for milk about every two hours. Between feedings, a panda mother will rarely put her baby down. When sitting, the mother holds the tiny creature in her paw. When she is on the move, she carries the baby gently in her mouth. Panda cubs can walk on their own when they are about three months old.
"Panda Seeks Mama Dog"
Lele, the Beijing Zoo panda who had twins on August 3, does not have enough milk to feed both of her babies. Because she cannot care for two cubs, she chose to nurture one and abandon the other. Lele's zookeeper said that this is a "normal and instinctive" behavior for panda mothers who don't produce enough milk.
What can a zookeeper do in the time of a panda milk shortage? Ask a dog for help! Because dog milk is very similar to panda milk, zoos can use dog milk to feed a baby panda. To find a nursing dog, the Beijing Zoo ran a want ad in a Beijing newspaper. The headline read "Panda Seeks Mama Dog."
"The response was very enthusiastic," said a zookeeper. The rejected panda baby soon had a surrogate mother dog.
Between the ages of 12 months and 18 months, a panda cub will gain nearly 100 pounds and grow the strong teeth it needs to eat bamboo. When a panda is about 18 months old, it is ready to be on its own. At this time it will leave its mother to make a home for itself alone.
Pandas spend most of their time alone. They really don't have much time to socialize, because in the wild these slow-moving animals spend about 14 hours a day eating bamboo.