Swapping panda cubs may help them survive
In more than three decades of trying to breed pandas at the National Zoo, there has been plenty of heartbreak. More cubs born in Washington have died than survived, and news of a birth has often been greeted warily.
But yesterday, zoo officials were nearly giddy. They don't just have an apparently healthy pair of twins, born on Saturday night to panda mum Mei Xiang. They have a template to follow that gives the cubs a strong chance of survival.
Pandas won't usually nurse twins if left to their own devices. They will care for one and allow the other to die.
But in the past decade Chinese breeders have come up with a system - every several hours, they swap the cubs, giving each one the critical time it needs to nurse and bond with its mother. Meanwhile, the other one is kept in an incubator.
Panda keepers at the Smithsonian's National Zoo will continue performing these delicate swaps as long as it's needed and as long as Mei Xiang lets them. The first one, early yesterday morning, was successful.