Behind the scenes in the Panda Garden at Zoo Berlin, first-time Giant Panda mom Meng Meng snuggles her tiny newborns into the warm, soft fur of her face. On August 31, Berlin’s Panda population doubled as Germany welcomed its first-ever Panda offspring – two of them!
The past month at Zoo Berlin has been particularly tense and exciting, with plenty of waiting and crossed fingers. Finally, on August 31 at 6:54 p.m., the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived: following a gestation period of 147 days, female Panda Meng Meng, 6, gave birth to her very first cub. The joyous event came just one week after experts from Zoo Berlin and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) were able to perform an ultrasound scan that determined Meng Meng was indeed pregnant.
Immediately after giving birth, the new mother knew just what to do: she placed the tiny creature gently on her belly and began to warm it lovingly with her big paws, warm breath, and the soft fur of her cheeks. But mother and child weren’t alone for long, as at 7:42 p.m. – just under an hour later – a second cub was born!
“Meng Meng and her two cubs coped well with the birth and are all in good health,” reports Zoo Director Dr. Andreas Knieriem. “Even though these are the first offspring born to our young female Panda, she is already doing a wonderful job as a mum. In the beginning, the young have to feed roughly every two to three hours and are dependent on the body heat of their mother to keep warm.”
Like all baby Giant Pandas, Germany’s first Panda cubs were born pink with fine white down and a disproportionately large tail. Though they are helpless, the youngsters came out with strong lungs and immediately put them to good use. Meng Meng responds to their loud squeaks by carefully guiding the little ones to her teats to feed. As Pandas that give birth to twins usually only raise one of the cubs, in close cooperation with Chinese experts of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Zoo Berlin has decided to actively support Meng Meng in the rearing process to ensure the survival of both cubs.
“There are only 1,864 adult Giant Pandas currently living in their natural habitat,” says Knieriem. “As a result, every single new cub represents an important contribution to the conservation of the species.” The young Pandas are therefore currently on alternating, two-to-three-hour shifts with their mother, and are otherwise being cared for in a cozy warm incubator by the Chinese breeding experts. Vets have even managed to conduct an initial examination – with promising results. At two weeks old, the cubs had more than doubled their birth weights to 431 grams (about one pound) and 343 grams (roughly 12 ounces). They are nursing so well from Meng Meng that supplemental bottle feedings are no longer needed. The cubs’ genders have not been determined yet.
The young Panda family will stay behind the scenes for a while and will not be on view to Zoo visitors until further notice. For Panda dad Jiao Qing, 9, on the other hand, life goes on as normal. Male Pandas are not involved in the rearing of their young, so he can be found relaxing and munching on bamboo in the Panda Garden.
See more photos of Meng Meng and her babies below.