Panda cubs’ debut marks start of spring


Play time: Panda cubs playing next to festive decorations in their enclosure at the Shenshuping breeding base of Wolong National Nature Reserve in Wenchuan, Sichuan province. — AFP

Beijing: Ten panda cubs born in 2020 have made their debut in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, on Lichun, or the beginning of spring, the first solar term in the Chinese lunar calendar.

On Wednesday morning, keepers took the 10 panda cubs to a playground at the Shenshuping base

of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, where they were given treats and played on a toy train and castle.

“They kept smelling and biting the new toys, and it was apparent that they liked the train and castle, ” said Zhang Guiquan, a panda expert at the base, which was set up in 1980 under an agreement between the World Wide Fund for Nature, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, and the Chinese government.

The average age of the 10 cubs is around six months, with the oldest twin sisters being more than 190 days and the youngest being more than 120 days.

“All of the 10 cubs were conceived naturally, ” Zhang said.

It would have been close to impossible to increase the captive panda population if the centre had not resolved the difficulties in panda breeding it encountered in its early days.

In 1992, the centre housed just 10 pandas but now it is home to 330, the world’s largest captive panda population out of a total of 633, said Zhang Hemin, the centre’s executive deputy director.

Explaining how difficult the task was, he said researchers at first did not know about the pandas’ habits.

Thinking that they preferred a solitary life, researchers kept each panda isolated in a tiny den. But the pandas became depressed and had difficulty breeding, he said.

Over the course of studies initiated in 1992, researchers provided captive pandas with more opportunities to communicate socially with each other and play.

Male and female pandas were swapped into the dens of the opposite sex so that each would know the smell of the other.

In addition, to get them to move around and be more active, researchers placed biscuits rich in trace elements and vitamins in places the pandas could not find easily.

The abandonment of newborn panda cubs was another common problem as 50% of the newborns are typically twins, and the mother would end up caring for only one and abandoning the other cub.

The researchers solved the problem by removing the deserted cub and feeding it milk. They would then switch it with the favoured cub from time to time so that the mother unwittingly supported both cubs. — China Daily/ANN

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