When Panda mothers birth twins they usually choose to nurse the stronger cub, leaving the other to starve.
The Toronto Zoo has a plan to keep this from happening with its panda, Er Shun, which is expecting twins this month.
“While one neonate is nursing, the other is maintained in an incubator and attended, and occasionally supplemented, by Toronto Zoo staff,” head veterinarian Chris Dutton said.
Staff will have to work to keep Er Shun calm to tolerate the switching of cubs,” he said. “The frequency of cub exchange is highly variable, but we would aim for every two hours.”
This provides beneficial effects for both neonates and mum, Dutton said.
“This approach offers an enormous advantage to the cubs in providing both maternal milk and social access, but requires a high level of monitoring and scrutiny of caretakers familiar with the species,” he said.
The National Zoo of Washington also took this approach with their giant panda in residence, Mei Xiang, but it didn’t work
According to a press release from the Smithsonian National Zoo on Aug.24, the panda team had issues when they tried to swap the cubs. Mei Xiang wouldn’t release one of the cubs. The cub she didn’t nurse through the night died at just four days old.
Er Shun was flown to Toronto on loan from China on March 23 2013, and from the day of her arrival social media has observed her every move. The public eye is unblinking now, as she’s due to birth in a few weeks.