On October 13th Toronto Zoo announced the birth of two Giant Panda cubs! The zoo excitedly reported that mom, Er Shun, and her twin cubs were doing well, and that they would be living within the maternity area, inside the Giant Panda House, for approximately four to five months.
Giant Panda mothers are known for only looking after one cub at a time, so keepers are helping raise the twins using a method called ‘twin swapping’. One baby is left with the mother, and the keepers switch the twins every few hours, so each one gets care and milk directly from mom.
Since the beginning, Er Shun has been demonstrating excellent maternal instincts, and she began cleaning and cradling the first cub soon after its birth. Immediately following the birth of the second cub, Toronto Zoo staff from the Wildlife Health Centre, Wildlife Care, and two Giant Panda experts from Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China retrieved the cub to initiate the Toronto Zoo's Giant Panda Twin Hand-Rearing Protocol. The cub was then placed in an incubator in the maternity area of the Giant Panda house, and approximately two hours after its birth, the second cub was twin-swapped so it could begin the bonding process with Er Shun. The first cub weighed 187.7 grams at birth, and the second cub weighed 115 grams.
As the maternity area of the Giant Panda House is not visible to the public, Toronto Zoo staff will endeavor to provide regular updates on their progress, via their website and social media: http://www.torontozoo.com/GiantPandaCubs/
At this time Zoo staff do not know the sex of the cubs and have not confirmed which panda is the father. It may be several months before they are able to determine either.
With the assistance of the two Giant Panda experts from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, the zoo team continues to twin-swap the cubs. This not only enables Er Shun to nurse and bond with each cub, but also provides the Zoo's Wildlife Health Centre and Wildlife Care staff the opportunity to weigh each cub and conduct regular health checks.
While there has been some weight fluctuations with both cubs, which is very common with newborns, both of them are currently stable. If the team notices that one or both of the cubs are not suckling from their mother, the team is able to collect milk from Er Shun and give it to the cubs extremely carefully, by bottle.
Keepers recently shared that the cubs are starting to look more like Giant Pandas. Both are starting to develop very visible black and white markings, with black pigment coming in on the saddle of their shoulders, around their eyes, and on their ears. The twins are also becoming quite vocal, active and bright. Er Shun continues to be a great mom and the cubs are doing well, but the two will continue to be very vulnerable for several more weeks. Both cubs and mom remain in the maternity area of the Giant Panda House, not viewable by the public.