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Panda Cub Updates: October 15 - July 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15
One of the first things we do when we arrive for our nursery shifts is to check in with the nursery keeper that we are relieving and to look at the cubs’ daily logs. The logs are a great way to quickly visualize how well the cubs have been gaining weight throughout the day (as well as on any previous days). When I arrived on Sunday, I was surprised to see that Cub A had gained 154 grams in just one nursing session with Lun Lun.  This is a personal record for him for the most amount of weight gained at one time! Cub B is gaining weight steadily with a couple of these big gains over the last few days, too. Cub A now weighs 3.88 kilograms, and Cub B is 4.04 kilograms.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Monday, October 14
Yesterday, October 13, the cubs were 90 days old! Wow! I still remember in those early days, we were so happy to reach the 48-hour mark, then the 72-hour mark. We only planned hour by hour, swap by swap. Even though the cubs were always doing well in those early days and we never had a real cause for concern, we couldn't rest easy while they were so young and fragile. But as the days, weeks and then months passed, the cubs continued to thrive and we stopped holding our breath. We've never stopped being vigilant, of course! This is a big milestone for us, though and we are thrilled that the cubs and Lun Lun are doing so well! Right now, Cub A weighs 3.7 kilograms and Cub B weighs 3.9 kilograms.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
 
Friday, October 11
Last night was the quietest, most uneventful night I've had! The cubs were both very quiet all night because they were in what I call a "food coma" after nursing from Lun so well! Lun Lun herself stuffed her face with bamboo for quite a long time and then fell asleep in her own food-induced coma before waking up and eating some more. All this sleeping made me pretty sleepy myself, but thankfully I have plenty to do to keep me busy!
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Thursday, October 10
Well, Cub A must have known that I haven’t seen him stand because this morning, right before my shift ended, he decided to impress Deng and me by standing up for just under a second like his bigger brother did last night!  Unfortunately, as much as we enjoyed seeing him stand up, at the time we were trying to get his weight so we really needed him to sit still!  He quickly settled down once he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to get out of the container we weigh the cubs in. After getting his weight, we gave the squirmy cub to his mother who readily allowed him to nurse until his tummy was full,  and he quieted down for a nap.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Wednesday, October 9
The naming contest has begun! Have you voted yet?
 
This past evening was another quiet one in the building. However, there were a few highlights: I saw Cub B actually get all four limbs under control, underneath him and supporting his weight!  It lasted for less than a second, but I was all smiles regardless. Smiles because they’re growing up so quickly and smiles because I know how much more interesting life is going to get with two mobile cubs! I haven’t seen Cub A copy his brother’s actions, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred. I just happened to glance at B in the “playpen” and caught his demonstration of strength and coordination. It’s crazy to think that they are almost 3 months old! When did that happen?
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Weigh in on the cubs' names! Vote here!
 
 
Tuesday, October 8
In 15 days the cubs will turn 100 days old! This is a very important day in the cubs' lives. On October 23, we will honor an important Chinese tradition and give the cubs their official names. This means that we will retire their nicknames, which we have used to identify them since their birth ("Cub A" and "Cub B"). The naming celebration is a huge deal and will be a cause for lots of celebration at the Zoo. And the best part is that you get to help us name the cubs!  
 
The polls open tomorrow, October 9, and you will have the opportunity to vote for one of five sets of names that were submitted by Zoo Atlanta and our colleagues at the Chengdu Research Base. The names are as follows:
  1. Mei Lun (may loon) and Mei Hua (may hwaa), meaning “Lun Lun’s twin cubs born in the U.S.”
  2. Mei Lun (may loon) and Mei Huan (may hwaan), originating from a Chinese idiom that means “something indescribably beautiful and magnificent”
  3. Tian Lun (tee-an loon) and Tian Le (tee-an luh), a modified version of a Chinese idiom meaning “joy of family life” or “family happiness”
  4. Lan Tian (lan tee-an) and Bi Shui (bee shway), meaning “blue sky and clear water”
  5. Da Lan (dah lan) and Xiao Lan (sheow lan), meaning “bigger one (Cub B) and smaller one (Cub A) of Atlanta-born twins” 
I can't wait to see what names are chosen for these special little boys. Don't forget to vote for your favorite. I know I will!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Monday, October 7
Those of you that stay up late watching PandaCam may have noticed that sometimes the camera is on the wall for long periods of time. This is because we have retrieved the cub for a swap, but Lun Lun has decided to eat once we have taken the cub away. In the daytime, we can put Lun Lun on PandaCam while she is eating for your enjoyment! However, since it is dark in the building at night, Lun Lun cannot be seen on camera in the dens where she is eating, so there is no panda visible during this time. 
Heather R 
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Friday, October 4
Cub B is really working hard on learning to walk. He scoots all over the place in the nest box and in the “playpen” trying to strengthen his leg muscles. His front legs are already strong enough; it’s those pesky rear legs that are holding him back! I have seen him get his back legs underneath him a couple of times, but it only lasts a few seconds. It won't be long before he and his brother are running all over the place!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Thursday, October 3
This past evening was a quiet one in the panda building. Lun Lun was more interested in catching up on sleep than she was in eating. The twins nursed and slept as well. It was almost as if they all knew the excitement the next day would bring! With the twins’ 100-day Naming Celebration looming closer and closer, you could find them both hanging out in their “playpen” bright and early this morning when staff from Good Morning America arrived and shot live footage of our little boys as the five sets of names for the twins were announced to the nation. The public will have the opportunity to vote on the names of our little tykes! I can’t wait to see what the boys’ official names will be. Be sure to cast your vote – I know I will!
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

 
Wednesday, October 2
Round two of panda nursery watch is here! After spending the past month taking care of the "big boys" (Yang Yang, Xi Lan and Po) I'm back on the cub side of PandaLand. Since I was still working in the panda building during this past month, I was able to catch glimpses of the cubs regularly, so it shouldn't have been a shock to see just how big they've gotten. But when I came in for my first shift yesterday, I was blown away at just how much the little munchkins have grown in one month! They nearly doubled in size and weight! They no longer fit comfortably in the incubators I had grown accustomed to helping take care of them in. Now they've got their "playpen" where I've discovered that I'm the only nursery keeper tall enough to be able to easily reach down into the "playpen" and scoop up a cub when it's time to stimulate/weigh/temp check. The other keepers utilize the front panel that can be slid up. Since the cubs are still small and can't get around too well, it's no big deal. But I can imagine things will be different once they're more mobile! I got a hint of this last night when, after stimulating Cub B and setting him back in the "playpen,” I turned to take some notes and seconds later heard a thump. I turned to find that he had managed to wriggle himself completely under the blankets and had bumped his head into the wall. After fixing everything I set him back down only to watch the same scene repeat itself. Thankfully it was almost time to swap the cubs so Lun Lun had the joy of dealing with the little troublemaker!
 
Not only has their size changed, but their personalities grow every day as well. Cub A is relaxed with us humans, but vocal and needy with Mom. Cub B is fussy with us and laid back with Mom. As a cub, Po was the first of Lun Lun's offspring to make it clear that he wasn't too keen on us keepers in the beginning (now he is a goofball like his big brother and enjoys getting attention from us). I'm curious to see which one of these twins will follow suit, if at all. We all had an inkling that it might be Cub A since he was the fussiest in the beginning...but now we're not so sure! Regardless, I'm not worried, because like Po did, I know these little tykes will quickly start bonding with their caretakers.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Tuesday, October 1
Lun Lun and the cubs slept most of the night last night. Lun Lun hardly even got up for meal breaks, making this one of the quietest nights I've had since the cubs were born. It was nice to see everyone so content, but I'm sure when they finally wake up everyone will be very hungry!
 
Cub A weighs 3.085 kilograms, and Cub B weighs 3.225 kilograms.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 

Monday, September 30
The cubs are slowly starting to show their developing personalities. While Cub A is usually the fussiest at mealtimes, he seems to be somewhat laid back the rest of the time. Cub B, on the other hand, is becoming quite a handful! He might be least fussy when he's nursing, but he can be a bit feisty at other times.  At one point yesterday he was very wiggly, and despite all of Lun Lun's efforts, he refused to settle down to sleep. I'm sure she was relieved when it was time for the swap. After nursing Cub A, she was able to settle down for a nice long nap!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, September 27
We've been talking a lot recently about the cubs' mobility. This is because walking is the next big milestone that we expect to see! Panda cubs usually start walking when they are around 3-4 months old. They won't be very good at it at first, but not many carnivore babies are! At this point, the cubs are using every waking moment as an opportunity to build their muscles and learn how to get their bodies to cooperate with where they want to go. If the cubs are alone in the nest box you will often see them scooting around, which they're getting very good at. 

But, if you have caught a nursing session with one of our cubs on PandaCam then you may have watched as the cub bobbed his head around while laying with Lun Lun. This is just more of the practicing that the cubs are doing. Their back legs are not strong enough or coordinated enough for them to bear much weight on them yet. This means that, at times, they're still a little silly looking and awkward when it comes to positioning themselves at a teat to nurse. So instead, they use their upper body, including their heads, to propel their movements. They'll get better as they grow and practice, and eventually this will be unneccessary for them.  
 
We're only a few weeks away from the cubs starting to take those first wobbly steps!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Thursday, September 26
Why is there no bedding in the nest box? For the first several weeks after the cubs were born, we used hay for bedding in the nest box. This was removed a few weeks ago because of concern expressed by Deng Tao, the nursery keeper from the Chengdu Research Base who is assisting us. A very small piece of hay was found in the feces of one of the cubs a few weeks ago. Accidental ingestion of hay could cause harm to the cubs’ immature digestive tracts. The risk is small, but it is a risk we decided to eliminate. Lun Lun does not need bedding. She is perfectly comfortable sleeping on the floor without bedding. When she is provided with bedding outside of the nest box, she does not use it and chooses to sleep on the bare floor instead. The bedding was useful for the cubs for the first few weeks after they were born, because they did not have a full coat of fur, yet. The bedding helped insulate them when Lun Lun started putting them down initially. After 25 days of age, they had a full coat of fur and were able to start to regulate their own body temperatures. At that point the bedding was no longer necessary. So, when Deng Tao expressed his concern about the accidental ingestion of hay, we decided it was best to remove all of the hay. I understand that to our PandaCam viewers the lack of bedding appears uncomfortable. Rest assured that the pandas are comfortable on the floor without bedding. They have thick, wooly fur that insulates them and provides plenty of cushioning.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, September 25
The cubs are getting more and more mobile every day. On Sunday I came back from my weekend and was greeted by Cub B making it very difficult for me to get a weight on him. Everytime I would put him on the scale he would push himself up and start to attempt to climb off the scale. His back legs aren't quite cooperating as he would like them to just yet and he didn't get very far, but it's only a matter of time before he gets strong enough to brace them under him. For now the cubs continue to scoot themselves around, and B is practicing every chance he gets. He and his brother also seem to be able to focus their eyes a little better now. They are looking at us and Lun Lun more deliberately, and while they are gaining better control over their movements, their heads still move like little bobble heads when they try to push themselves up. 
Jenny E.
Keeper III, Carnivores

Tuesday, September 24
If you've been watching PandaCam lately, you may have noticed a big, yellow ball that is hanging from the wall in one of Lun Lun's dens. This is a feeder ball, which is a form of enrichment that we have offered her. It is covered in holes so that we can hide Lun Lun's biscuits and produce inside of it to encourage her to forage for this part of her diet. Foraging for food is an important skill for animals to have, and Lun Lun's feeder ball encourages this natural behavior. Lun Lun's really good at finding the biscuits, but she seems to prefer banging the ball into the metal mesh wall that it's attached to instead of just tilting the ball as you might expect. This creates a lot of noise, so it has also been enriching for her cubs. The first few times Lun Lun got biscuits in the feeder ball, the cubs woke up and were not really sure what to make of the loud banging noises, but now they barely even notice.

Enrichment like this is an important part of our daily jobs as keepers. Enrichment is any object or opportunity that metally stimulates the animal or encourages natural behaviors. We offer several different types of enrichment every day. Sensory enrichment includes things like novel scents or sounds. Manipulative enrichment includes items for the animals to manipulate or play with. Environmental enrichment can be offered by providing new branches to perch on or substrates to walk or sleep on. Food enrichment can be providing new or different food items, but it also means that we can provide the animals' food in different ways, much like Lun Lun's feeder ball!
 
If you're interested in seeing enrichment in action, then join us this Saturday, September 28 for Play the Animal Way! We'll have lots of fun enrichment scheduled throughout the day for all of the animals, as well as special keeper talks and opportunities for you to make your own enrichment!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, September 23
The cubs' legs are getting stronger every day thanks to all of their scooting practice. This is evident in the way they move, but also in the way they are starting to interact with us when we are holding them. Last night I was carrying a very wiggly Cub B to the den for a cub swap, and he decided that he wanted to try to climb up my arm. He wasn't successful since I had hold of him, but I could definitely feel those long, sharp claws and developing muscles trying hard to pull himself up. It's a good reminder that someday they will grow up to be big and strong bears.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, September 20
One of the perks of working the night shift in the panda building is the opportunity to learn a little more about each of the bears and to see things we usually don't get to see. Everyone who has been watching PandaCam for any length of time is I'm sure familiar with all of Lun Lun's preferred sleeping positions. Her two favorites as of late have been sprawled out on her belly and resting on the ledges of the shift doors. The older boys have preferences too. Every night one of our three older boys sleeps in our back den, or Den 4 as we call it, and an adjacent animal “hallway.” We have to pass by them when getting Lun Lun fresh bamboo, and over time I have learned that they all have their preferred sleeping spots as well. Both Xi Lan and Po prefer to sleep in the hallway in front of a door with a window leading to the dayroom where another of the boys is sleeping. Once morning arrives, Xi Lan can be found at the window looking at and calling to the other bear in the dayroom. He's always been a nosy bear. Father, Yang Yang, knows the best place and sleeps on his elevated scale in Den 4, completely sprawled out and snoring happily. He knows a throne when he sees one. It will be interesting to see what our two young boys prefer as they get older. 
Jenny E.
Keeper III, Carnivores

Thursday, September 19
As we've mentioned before, Lun Lun has been prefering to eat the leaves of the bamboo we offer. I always enjoy watching them eat bamboo in this manner as it is the perfect example of how they use their pseudothumbs. Lun Lun first grips the bamboo stalk with her paw and then begins systematically stripping each sprig (what we call the individual branches coming off of the main stalk) of its leaves with her mouth. Once her mouth is overflowing with leaves she then bunches them in her paw with the use of that special pseudothumb, takes them out of her mouth, and then begins to take little bites of the leaves. It is a very systematic process aided by their unique paws. Once the fur grows in, it is difficult to take a picture of an adult panda’s paws, which is why we've been trying to catch this picture of the cubs to help explain this unique paw structure better. 
Jenny E.
Keeper III, Carnivores

Tuesday, September 17
Overnight last night was very quiet. Lun Lun was very hungry yesterday during most of the day and evening, so by the time I arrived for my shift, she was full and sleepy.  

The cubs were pretty quiet too. They are doing a lot of scooting and get better and better at it every day. I was impressed with Cub B last night as I watched him hold his head up off the ground and peer over the side of the nest box at a sleeping Lun Lun. We don't know how well the cubs are able to see right now because their eyes have not fully opened, but they definitely seem to know which direction mom is in if she leaves them while they are awake!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, September 16
This morning, Deng Tao and I had a slight moment of confusion. We were swapping the cubs and found that the cub we were weighing was the same weight as the cub we had pulled out of the nest box. Since both cubs had been in the "box" together for about half an hour, there was a chance that the cubs had scooted to the opposite sides of the "box." So what did we do?  We started comparing those tiny characteristics that makes each cub different. Luckily, Cub A still has dark markings around his mouth, while Cub B has only slight coloration in the same area. So it was actually pretty easy to determine who was who! 

Cub A and Cub B both weigh 2.48 kilograms, but they won't stay that way for long!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, September 13
This past evening Deng Tao and I got to enjoy some fun cub vocalizations. During one of the swaps, he picked up the cub to bring him out of the den and for the first time I got to enjoy Deng Tao being startled by a cub. Up until now he has chuckled at us when we have moved the cubs and been startled by them vocalizing loudly at us. This time it was my turn to chuckle, and he got yelled at by Cub B. Then later in the evening, as we were cleaning Den 1 while Lun ate in Den 3 and Cub A was resting in Den 2, we were suprised to hear Cub A vocalizing in his sleep. He was moaning and making sharp little "barks" while his legs were going. We just looked at one another amused. Maybe he was dreaming.
Jenny E
Keeper III, Carnivores

Thursday, September 12
The cubs have hit another milestone tonight. We are now extending the the time between swaps a little bit more. The cubs are eating heartily at the beginning of every swap and then tend to zonk out for a few hours, so we are working our schedule with theirs. This extended period will give them more time to rest and give Lun more time to eat and rest up in preparation for the next hungry cub. Occasionally if Lun is away from the cubs for a length of time eating or resting, we will pull the cub and put him in the new "playpen" or "cub box" with his brother. This allows Lun to have some alone time and gives the cubs time together. During this time we are always monitoring Lun to make sure she is comfortable and happy eating or resting. As soon as she is ready, we give the cub right back to her. We'd much rather she care for them and we don't want to cause her any added stress by keeping them away longer than she'd like. As of now, while A and B are together they are not really acknowledging one another, but I can't wait for the day that they realize they have a new playmate and best friend. Get ready for incredible cuteness. 
Jenny E
Keeper III, Carnivores
 
Wednesday, September 11
Lun Lun is steadily returning to her old self again. Now that she is food motivated she is more of a willing training participant. Yesterday I was able to call her over to the mesh to present her chest and belly for a quick visual and tactile exam. She has had no problems nursing the cubs and we have nothing to be concerned about, but we do like to check up on her just to see that everything looks good. She was more than willing to comply for her favorite biscuits and bananas, and I'm happy to report that she looks great and continues to do a fantastic job, despite being a tired and hungry momma.
Jenny E
Keeper III, Carnivores
 
Tuesday, September 10
At this stage in the cubs’ development, we expect to see each cub nurse every four to six hours. Lun Lun seems to prefer nursing her cubs while she lies down; however, the cubs don’t always agree with this – they seem to prefer when she sits up. This means that nursing is one of the times when the cubs are the most vocal. Cub A is usually the fussiest and will let Lun Lun know when he is hungry or not comfortable in whatever position she is in. Cub B will also let Lun Lun know when heis hungry, but he is more laid back with his positioning. As long as he can nurse, he is a happy camper. Although it looks quite uncomfortable to have a cub yelling in her ear, Lun Lun doesn’t seem too bothered by it. She will do just about anything to quiet a fussy cub, whether she just repositions her body or moves the cub to another den to nurse. She’s such a great mom!
Jennifer A
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Monday, September 9
Now that both cubs' eyes are opening, they are reacting to their environment a little more. We do not know how much they can see at this point, but they can follow movement and  they startle easily. In fact, when we take a cub from the nest box for a swap, sometimes just carrying him from the den area into the nursery causes him to squawk or bark in alarm. They have both done this a few times, and it can be surprising to the keeper carrying the cub!
Heather R 
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Friday, September 6
Yesterday evening, Lun Lun decided to leave the nest box and take a short nap away from Cub A. Both cubs are now very used to being on their own for longer periods of time. Usually they sleep, but last night Cub A was wide awake.  I watched as he kicked his hind legs and successfully scooted forward a couple of inches! He wiggled himself in a circle and then took some more slow scoots another couple of inches in the opposite direction. All that practice must have taken a lot out of him because shortly after, Cub A fell fast asleep.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 

Thursday, September 5
Are panda cubs fussy during teething as human babies are? We have not observed any behavioral change in our giant panda cubs around the time their teeth erupt. Human babies also often produce extra saliva when teething. Giant panda cubs do not produce extra saliva at any time in their development. Thus, I do not think there is discomfort associated with eruption of teeth in giant pandas, but I cannot be certain.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, September 4
Now that the cubs are getting bigger one might think that they would be getting squirmier and more vocal.  Recently that has not seemed to be the case. They seem much more content with sleeping and hardly seem bothered when we have to wake them up to swap them or stimulate them to go to the bathroom. In fact, all I've been able to get out of them so far are big yawns and hiccups. These of course only add to their ridiculous cuteness. I am however on the night shift, so I have the added perk of having very sleepy pandas during my shift. Maybe a big growth spurt is just around the corner.

Another nice aspect to the night shift is that we get to see at least one of the "big boys" overnight. As most of you are aware, in addition to Lun and the twins, we have three other boys, Yang Yang (the twins’ father), and Xi Lan and Po, the twins’ brothers. Every night one of them sleeps in a den on the other side of the building, and we occasionally have to walk by to get Lun fresh bamboo from the cooler. We try our best not to disturb any of the pandas during the night and to aid us in that we use the dimmer switches that control our lights. It provides us just enough light to see the cute sleepy boys who are zonked out in the back. I must say, they have taken this change to their nightly routine in perfect stride as well.  I'm sure they have noticed us back there, but they never let on to it. 
Jenny E.
Keeper III, Carnivores
 
Tuesday, September 3
Sunday night was very quiet. Lun Lun and the cubs were all very sleepy. At one point, Lun Lun took an opportunity for a long nap away from Cub B.  She was so sleepy that she didn't wake up when it was time to pull the cub.  So we decided to give her some much needed time to sleep before returning a cub to her. The cubs are getting so big!  Their weights are: Cub A – 1,887 grams, and Cub B – 1,996 grams.  
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, August 30
Since we have given Lun Lun more space, she has considered moving her cub a couple of times. Yesterday, she took the cub into one of the adjacent dens with her because she wanted to eat, but the cub was fussy in the nest box. As soon as she took him into the den, she decided against it and returned him to the nest box. Later in the day, she carried the cub into the other den and lay down to rest with him. Again, she only spent a few seconds in that den before returning the cub to the nest box.  Lun Lun obviously still prefers that the cubs remain in the nest box where she is comfortable leaving them. She did the same thing with her other three cubs, but always returned them quickly to the nest box until they were a little older.
Heather R
Carnivore Keeper III

Thursday, August 29
These cubs can be a handful at times, even for Lun who’s an experienced mother. They have their moments where they are very fussy and Lun’s constantly repositioning herself and the cub so that it can nurse or get more comfy. I can’t help but fast-forward to the moment where we give Lun both her cubs. She’ll be a rockstar, no doubt about that…but even rockstar Lun will have to get used to pacifying two fussy fuzzballs at once! Although I can’t wait to see them playing together and to see Lun playing with them because it will be adorable! Current cub weights: A: 1.735 kilograms; B: 1.736 kilograms. 
Jen W
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, August 28
We decided to give Lun access to all three of the dens she usually has when raising a cub. Now that the cubs are older and able to self-regulate their core temperature better, Lun feels comfortable leaving the cubs to eat and/or rest in an adjacent den for long stretches of time. To give her a little more variety, we cub-proofed Den 1 and gave her access to it (while having a cub) for the first time today. This den has an elevated platform that we use to weigh the giant pandas. Since a cub falling off this platform could easily harm it, Lun only has access to this den under supervision. So far she has not tried to carry the cub out of the nest box, but she definitely seems to enjoy having more room to move about and having more options. Plus, it is easier for the keepers to clean since we can alternate in which den she gets fresh bamboo and biscuits/produce.  Like a devoted mom, she never stays away from her cub for too long, but it’s nice that she has the ability to get a little “mommy time” while her little one sleeps in the nest box.
Jen W
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, August 27
Lun Lun has been spending small amounts of time away from the cubs for a while now, but recently she has been leaving them for longer periods of time. Last night, she left each cub on his own for a little over an hour and took some time to eat bamboo and take a nap. This is normal at this stage in the cubs’ development, as a mother panda in the wild would need to leave the den to find and eat bamboo, sometimes staying away for hours at a time. Lun Lun doesn’t go far though, and she’s always listening out for whichever cub she has at the time. Now that the cubs are older and have full coats, they are able to stay warm on their own for these short periods of time, and we don’t worry about them when Lun Lun leaves the nest box for awhile. She is a fantastic mom! If she hears the cub vocalize, she will check on him, whether she just looks over at him or walks over to the nest box to watch him.  If she feels that she needs to return to the cub, she will.  Otherwise, she seems content to let him spend some time on his own. Most of the time, the cub will sleep, but this is also the perfect time to work on those “exercises” that Heather mentioned!
Jennifer A
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, August 26
At one point last night while Cub B was in the incubator, he really didn’t want to have his temperature taken or to be stimulated to eliminate. He let us know this by vocalizing very loudly, so we decided to let him rest and try again later. He was so loud, however, that even Lun Lun heard him. I don’t think she knows that she has two cubs yet, but I do think she was very confused at the noise from an additional cub. She looked down at Cub A, who she was holding, but he was quietly nursing.  Then she looked up in the direction of the nursery. As soon as the noise stopped, she settled down with Cub A for a nap.  
Jennifer A
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, August 23
The cubs are becoming more active. When they are alone - whether in the incubator or if Lun Lun is away eating - they are very busy doing their “exercises” as I call them. They stretch and roll, kick their legs, and do crunches when on their backs. They cannot scoot yet, but they can wiggle and roll themselves along for short distances. These movements are an important part of their development. They are learning to use their muscles and building up strength. Before we know it, they will be scooting around on their bellies trying to follow Lun Lun!
Heather R
Carnivore Keeper III

Thursday, August 22
I have learned a lot about panda cub rearing from Deng Tao. We're so lucky to have his expertise! And he is learning a lot about our mom's personality. Lun Lun seems quite content to lie down and cuddle with her cub after it has nursed for a bit, whereas Deng would like her to encourage the cub to nurse for longer periods. Since the cubs can only squirm and roll over right now, it is easiest for them to nurse while Lun is sitting up, supporting their weight. It is also easier for the cub to venture to all four teats to nurse in this position. When she lies down, it's harder for the cubs to get to a teat to nurse. They'll vocalize of course, and Lun is attentive in repositioning her body and theirs, but an upright position is ideal. When the cubs are older and can crawl a bit, it won't matter if Lun is lying down because they'll be able to find a teat on their own. The cubs are still gaining weight, so we're not super concerned. Their weights are actually right on target with their big brothers Xi Lan and Po at the same age! So far, Mei Lan has been the heaviest cub, but not by much. We know this from compiling all the data we have from all five offspring and graphing it together to see if the twins are too heavy or too light compared to their brothers. We weren’t really worried, but having the graphs reassures us that the cubs are gaining weight steadily and proportionally to that of Lun’s other offspring. The analytical nerd in me loves doing data analysis, so this is yet another perk of being a nursery keeper! On a side note, panda cub grunts and "annoyed" vocalizations are ridiculously cute. They get so moody sometimes and you can't help but laugh! 
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, August 21
I'm gone for four days and I come back to discover that the cubs look like they got twice as big! We're even using the second incubator more often now because trying to manage both cubs in one incubator is already proving to be a challenge! It's much easier to tell Cub A from his brother because he's got such a big round belly, whereas his brother is more streamlined around the middle. This is ironic when you think about the fact that Cub B is usually the heavier of the two! And in just four days’ absence, it's amazing to see how much more comfortable both cubs and Lun are when she leaves to eat. Current weights: A: 1.3850 kg  and B: 1.3521 kg. 
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Tuseday, August 20
Panda cubs are not able to urinate or defecate on their own until they are around 4 months old. So, every couple of hours, a panda mom will stimulate her cub to do so by licking him. Lun Lun does a great job of this for whichever cub she has at the time, but what about the cub in the incubator? Four hours is a little too long to wait when you’re as tiny as a panda cub, so the nursery staff steps in to stimulate the cub to urinate and defecate every two hours. This is actually much more difficult than it looks, especially now that the cubs are bigger…and wiggly!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Monday, August 19
We weigh each cub right before they are returned to Lun Lun and right after they are brought to the incubator. This helps us track their development as well as how much they are eating. I arrived for my shift last night just in time for a cub swap. During this swap, it was Cub A’s turn to spend some time in the incubator while Cub B spent time with Lun Lun. Little did we know that Cub A had a huge surprise for us when we weighed him – he gained 111 grams in just four hours! This is an incredible weight increase for him in just one swap considering that, at this stage, we expect each cub to gain an average of 50-75 grams in one day. It is not entirely surprising that Cub A ate a lot in one swap, but it is surprising that he gained that much weight in such a short period of time. Cub A tends to nurse for a long time at one swap (sometimes gaining up to 80 grams in four hours). After that, he will nurse a little, but he spends most of the next couple of swaps sleeping, even if Lun Lun tries to wake him up to nurse. This means that he doesn’t always gain weight at every swap, and sometimes he loses some weight. This is okay because he is right on track for panda growth and development and still gains an average of 50-75 grams each day. Cub B, on the other hand, typically nurses for a while at every swap so his weight gain is more evenly spread out throughout the day. This is just another way the cubs are different! The cubs now weigh 1,294 grams (Cub A) and 1,306.7 grams (Cub B).
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Friday, August 16
Since this is Lun Lun's first time having twins, we want to get a blood sample just make sure she is in optimal health. We have no reason to be concerned, but there's no harm in being extra cautious. This is where all of the hard work we keepers have spent training the animals in our care comes in handy. Lun Lun is trained to participate in voluntary blood draws. We have removable training panels in one of her dens where we can slide the blood sleeve apparatus into (basically it's a PVC tube that she sticks her arm into and grabs a bar with her paw). We ask her to place her forearm into the sleeve, shave a small patch of fur, and then the vet is able to get a blood sample while the keeper keeps her distracted with some food.  All of our giant pandas are trained for the behavior (well, Po is still in the process of learning it). Lun Lun, like the other pandas, has no problem whatsoever with the blood sleeve. It's actually harder to keep their paws out of it, as they have such a strong association with having a paw in the blood sleeve and getting food. Overnight, during one of the cub swaps, I asked Lun Lun to come over to the blood sleeve to see if she was interested in a quick practice session with the blood sleeve. Like a champ she came right over and trained great! As with all other training at Zoo Atlanta, we use positive reinforcement and the training is completely voluntary, so Lun had the option to walk away whenever she wanted. But as usual she wouldn't leave until I gave her the signal that we were all done with the training session. She's such a rockstar panda!
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Panda Cub B, photo by keeper III Heather Roberts
 
 
Thursday, August 15
Heather weighed Lun Lun today for the first time since the twins were born. Lun Lun weighed 108 kg. This was surprising to Heather and me. We expected her to weigh about 100 kg. That is the weight we normally try to have Lun Lun maintain. As we have been reporting for weeks, she hasn’t been eating much since the last three weeks of her pregnancy. She did look thin the week after the cubs were born. But her appetite has picked up and she has been eating better. So, I expected that she would have regained the weight she lost and be close to her normal weight of 100 kg. Boy, was I wrong. She’s a bit heavier than we normally allow. I’m actually quite happy about that, though. It’s great that she is above her normal weight while nursing twins. It’s an indication that she is keeping up well with the cubs’ demand for milk. We increased her diet when she had her previous cubs and allowed her weight to increase. We have increased even more this time, because of the twins. It seems to be working!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Wednesday, August 14
Now that the cubs are a month old, everyone is taking a small breath. The cubs are still quite vulnerable and fragile, but they’ve passed the 1 kilogram mark so we’re all very happy. Staffing has shifted a bit as well! Deng Tao used to work during the day, helping to care for the cubs and sharing his vast knowledge of cub rearing.  While he slept in the den adjacent to Lun’s nesting den, the overnight crew consisted of a vet and a nursery keeper. Now that the cubs are a month old, Deng and the vets have swapped shifts: Deng now works overnight while a vet is here during the day. Even better is that Deng now feels comfortable enough to sleep outside the building! This new arrangement is very beneficial a our vet staff now have more time to take care of the other more than 1,500 critters here at Zoo Atlanta.  The cubs and Lun are clueless, obviously. They are still getting round-the-clock care and attention so their world hasn’t changed one bit.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
 
 
Tuesday, August 13
The cub swaps have been going really well since the twins were a few days old, but they have become even better lately. Lun Lun now regularly shifts away from the cub she has. While she is away, the door between the dens is closed. We enter the den that contains the nest box to remove one cub and place the other cub in the nest box. Then the door between the dens is opened. When Lun Lun is finished eating in the adjacent den, she goes straight to the nest box to pick up the cub. We are still doing the swaps approximately every four hours.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Monday, August 12
Our pandas are trained to take part in some really neat behaviors, but there is one that has proven very useful since Lun gave birth almost a month ago. The “bamboo” behavior is utilized by keepers when any of our pandas are not particularly interested in their bamboo.  Maybe it’s leafy and they would rather eat the culm (the stalk) or vice versa, or maybe they just don’t like the particular species that is offered. Either way, this equates to unhappy pandas.  So our keepers came up with a great way to encourage the pandas to eat bamboo – they trade them one bite of bamboo for a biscuit. It doesn’t matter how big or small of a bite they take. As long as they take a bite, they get a reward. Eventually the panda settles down to eating without further encouragement, and the keepers can get back to cleaning or any of our other various duties.
 
This has been extremely useful over the last four weeks on the nursery side of the panda building. Biscuits and produce are high in sugar and are a much quicker and easier food to consume than bamboo. But I guess that’s what happens when a carnivore prefers to eat plants. In small quantities, bamboo is not very nutritious, and it’s difficult to digest. It takes a lot of energy to eat enough bamboo to provide enough nutrition for one bear, let alone a mom and her two cubs. So it hasn’t been surprising that Lun prefers biscuits and produce over bamboo. However, it’s important that Lun Lun eats bamboo well too. That’s the best food for her and should still make up the largest part of her diet. We have been using the “bamboo” behavior to encourage Lun to eat more bamboo. Sure enough, all that encouragement paid off last night. During a swap, I offered Lun two large, leafy stalks of bamboo. She shifted away from her cub eagerly and went straight for the bamboo before I even had to ask. It’s great seeing her so content to eat, not to mention the fat bellies on both cubs!  
 
Speaking of the cubs, they’re 4 weeks old and doing great! Cub A weighs 888 grams, and Cub B weighs 954 grams!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Friday, August 9
The cubs are growing so quickly! They change almost every day, so it is getting more difficult to tell them apart. Strangely enough, it is actually easier to identify them when they are separate than when they are together! Cub B is still slightly larger than Cub A, but not by much. We all have different ways of distinguishing the cubs. Some of us look at the saddle – Cub A has a thinner saddle than Cub B. Some of us identify them by their mouths – Cub A has more black pigment around his mouth than Cub B. Some of us use their body shape – Cub B is long and slender, Cub A is short and chubby. Some of us see other minor differences such as Cub B has longer ear hair than Cub A or Cub B has a fluffier face than Cub A. Most of these things will change with time, so as the cubs change, our ways of identifying them will have to change too.
Heather
Carnivore Keeper III
 

Thursday, August 8
Now that Lun Lun is leaving the cubs uncovered more and more, if you watch closely on PandaCam you might be able to see a cub nursing. Lun Lun nurses in a variety of positions. Sometimes she is lying down and it’s very hard to see the cub at all. But one of her nursing postures is sitting up and that’s when you are most likely to get a glimpse. You will also notice that she often licks the cub while in this position. She does a great job keeping the cubs very clean. She often licks them while they are nursing. That increases the difficulty when we are listening for nursing, because it’s hard to hear the quiet sound of suckling when the louder sound of her licking is also occurring. It’s much easier now that we can see the cubs better.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
 
Wednesday, August 7
We have mentioned that the twins were a bit of a surprise to us. We knew twins were a strong possibility and we were well prepared to care for twins, but we didn’t know that Lun Lun was going to have twins. We’ve received some questions about why we didn’t see two fetuses through ultrasound. Lun Lun did not cooperate as frequently with ultrasound during this pregnancy as she did for her last pregnancy. She was especially sleepy and reluctant to move to the ultrasound area. And when she did get into the right position, she often did not stay very long. During this pregnancy we only saw a fetus twice, and we did not get any images in the last week of the pregnancy. Thus, the vets were not able to image her entire uterus in any session. That’s what they have done in the past to look for twins. Also, in the last few days of the pregnancy, the fetuses are larger and easier to see. If we had been able to get ultrasound images in the few days prior to birth, it would have been easier to see both fetuses. Perhaps Lun Lun was more sleepy and less patient with us because she was pouring a lot of energy into growing two cubs instead of just one.  
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 

Tuesday, August 6
Lun Lun is now fairly regularly leaving the cubs for extra meals and potty breaks. Usually, we watch her from our AV room where we have multiple monitors set up with two different views of her den. When she gets up and leaves the cub, we will head into the hallway and see what she is up to. When she is hungry, she almost always meets us at the front of her adjacent den. If we peek in and see her sitting there, we know it is her way of telling us that she wants food. Up until recently, Lun Lun hasn't been comfortable with us closing the shift door between her and the cub, but today she has allowed us to do so, twice. We are swapping the cubs every four hours, but these times in between give us the opportunity to even more closely monitor the cubs. While Lun Lun eats, we are able to take the cub, weigh him, and keep him warm until she is ready to return to him. This is great for her because she can focus on eating without a fussy cub yelling at her. It is also helpful for us because we are able to get a mid-swap weight. With all of the necessary appliances and air conditioning running in the building, it can sometimes be difficult to hear the cub nurse unless Lun Lun has him completely uncovered. Getting a mid-swap weight allows us to more accurately gauge how much milk the cub is getting when he nurses, especially if we can't confidently say that he has nursed for a significant amount of time. If the cub hasn't gained much weight or decreases in weight, we know that he needs more time with mom so he can continue to grow big and strong. We also keep a close eye on the cub in the incubator. If he starts to get fussy, we know that he is getting hungry and will need to be swapped sooner. As many keepers have said before, happy pandas means happy keepers. This is true for the cubs now too!

Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, August 5
Can you believe that the cubs are already 3 weeks old?! It is absolutely incredible how much the cubs grow and develop each day. On my drive to work, I find myself wondering how much bigger the cubs will be since the last time I saw them (usually less than 24 hours before). How much more fur will have grown in? Just in the last few days, the changes have been very noticeable. Their black markings have become darker and more pronounced, and their fur has really grown in.  While they still have just a few more days to go before they look like miniature pandas, they now look more black-and-white than black-and-pink. The cubs’ weight gain depends on how much they nurse during each swap and can fluctuate, just like our adult pandas. The weight gain can be small (10-20 grams), but it can also be very large, sometimes as much as 50 grams in four hours (the current length of time between swaps). Usually they fall somewhere right in the middle. As of the last swap, Cub A is now 601.0 grams and Cub B is 628.2 grams.  
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Friday, August 2
Both twins now weigh a little over a pound each! Cub A didn’t stay ahead of his brother in weight for long. B caught and surpassed A within a day, but they have remained close ever since. This morning Cub A weighed 492 grams, and Cub B weighed 502 grams. Although they are still very small, they look huge compared to the day they were born. They are also becoming cuter by the day. We ooh and ahh over them every day, noting their increasing fuzziness, fat tummies, and perfectly curved, tiny claws. They are starting to grow a fine coat of fur now, but they also still have the white fuzzy lanugo that covered them when they were born. They will have a full coat of fur in about another week and will then truly look like miniatures of their parents.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Thursday, August 1
Third shifts tend to be nice and peaceful. Besides the nursery keeper and vet, Security, and the occasional NightCrawler group spending the night at the Zoo, there aren’t many people here! As the cubs get bigger and stronger they aren’t quite as needy as they were when newborns. You can easily see a cub when Lun Lun is readjusting or they are rooting around looking for milk. Adult pandas usually take an extended nap overnight, but will get up periodically to eat bamboo. Lun Lun just sleeps and focuses on her cub; she mainly eats during the cub swaps. Soon enough she will set the cubs down for longer periods (and they’ll be okay with it) so she can refuel…but we aren’t quite there yet as the cubs are not always thrilled to leave the snuggly warmth of their mother’s fur. We keep a vigilant eye and if we notice that she repeatedly tries to set the cub down in an effort to find food and the cubs protests, we’ll swoop in and hand-feed her through the bars while she attends to her demanding cub. And she definitely needs food! Those two little furballs are growing fast!
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Wednesday, July 31
Like Rebecca stated before, we have an amazing team working around the clock to make sure these cute little furballs grow up healthy and strong, and that Lun Lun stays healthy as well. I just started my rotation as a nursery keeper, and it’s pretty cool to take part in a group working so smoothly like a well-oiled machine. The first 24-48 hours after the cubs were born were stressful for everyone as they had to find a rhythm of swapping out the cubs that worked best for Lun Lun and her newborns. This was complicated by the obvious fact that Cub A was smaller than his brother and in the early days was getting hungry far quicker. But very quickly the kinks were worked out and everyone relaxed a minuscule amount because at least we had a routine. Even Lun Lun settled into the (roughly) three-hour swap schedule without much fuss at all.  So much so that on my first day, she kept getting up and become more active right around the three-hour mark, as if she knew what was going to happen.  I am constantly amazed throughout my shifts at just how awesome Lun is in allowing us to take her cub, as if it’s no big deal. It’s a testament to the relationship we have with her and her trusting nature that she allows this.  Currently, Cubs A and B are pretty close in weight; weighing 394.7g and 405.5g, respectively.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, July 30
The cubs are growing like weeds! This is great news for many reasons, but most importantly, it means that Lun Lun is producing enough milk to feed both of her growing boys. In order to keep up with the needs of her cubs, her appetite is slowly increasing. Right now she prefers the sweet stuff – fruit and biscuits. She will eat some bamboo every few hours, but usually not more than a couple of handfuls at a time. Soon her appetite will pick up tremendously, and she’ll go back to her normal consumption (or likely even more) of bamboo.  
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, July 29
Are giant panda twins ever identical? I have never heard of identical or monozygotic giant panda twins. As far as I know, they are always fraternal or dizygotic. It is interesting that people refer to giant panda cubs from the same litter as twins, rather than littermates as we would for other carnivores. For example, if only two puppies are born in a litter, we don't normally call them twins. I guess we call two cubs twins in giant pandas, because giant pandas either have a single cub or two. They very, very rarely have three cubs. Most other carnivores have litters than range from one to five or more offspring.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Friday, July 26
Night shifts in the panda building have been quite enjoyable so far. The nursery staff, our Chinese colleague, Deng, and Lun and family have all settled in to a nice paced routine. We try to keep the noise and lights to a minimum so all the bears can get a good night’s rest. In the evenings it is just the bears, a nursery keeper, a vet, and Deng. I have really enjoyed getting to know Deng and have learned so much about Chengdu Research Base and his experience with raising cubs. Now however I rarely get to see him! He too has finally settled into a routine and is able to catch up on some very much needed rest during the late night shift. During these early days he is never too far, and usually can be found sleeping in his chosen makeshift bedroom in the den next to Lun. While the cubs are doing great and everyone has adjusted to the routine we are so grateful for his expertise and devotion to Lun and the cubs. 

While everyone is sleeping what do the rest of us do? We monitor Lun and the cubs, drink a coke, stimulate the cub in the incubator to urinate and defecate regularly, take his body temperature, drink coffee, follow our cleaning/disinfection schedule, keep up on all our record keeping, drink another coke, get Lun’s next meal buffet ready, clean the incubators, have some coffee, then turn around and realize the sun is up and the next shift has arrived. I will be the first one to admit that even though my sleep patterns have been totally turned around, I am really enjoying these nice quiet hours with the bears and our incredible staff.
Jennifer
Keeper III, Carnivores

Wednesday, July 24
As you continue to watch PandaCam you might start noticing that you can catch more and more glimpses of the cubs as Lun Lun moves them around and cares for them. We can’t seem to say enough about what a great mom she is being. She has always been a good mom in the past, but this time around the demands on her are slightly greater. As nursery keepers one of our highest priorities, aside from monitoring the cubs, is making sure that Lun receives the best care possible. She is the most important link in helping the twins grow up strong and healthy. We monitor her closely while she has a cub, making notations of position changes, cub vocalizations, and what she might be doing with the cub. We also watch to see if she will be receptive to feeding or being offered a drink. Right now she is choosing to only accept food or water during a cub swap. During a swap we have two jobs. One nursery staff person will take the cub to the incubator to be weighed and have his temperature taken. Both cubs will then stay in the incubator together while the second nursery keeper offers Lun fresh bamboo, biscuits, produce and water. Lun’s needs vary with each swap so we try to have many fresh options available so that she can have whatever she needs. You may have noticed that there is almost no bamboo in her den with her. This is because as she eats it and as it dries it becomes very pointy. We are currently cutting it into small branches and offering her the choice pieces with lots of leaves so there is not much left behind in the nest box. So far she is doing very well with coming over and selecting food from her buffet. 

The cub swap also allows Lun time to leave the nest box to defecate or urinate. If you have been watching our pandas for a while you may have noticed that they don’t tend to pay attention to where they go to the bathroom. They do not designate a particular spot as a latrine like some other animals do. A mother with a cub is the exception to this rule. Lun Lun will not defecate in her nest and therefore takes the needed break while we have the cubs in the incubator. Tonight was the first night I saw her attempt to put the cub down on the hay so she could leave the nest to relieve herself. Unfortunately for her, she chose to do so while she had Cub A, the notoriously vocal “opinionated” one. He let her know, very loudly, that he was not okay with that, so she quickly came back, picked him up, and waited until the next swap, when she then took full advantage of her buffet and latrine.   
Jennifer
Keeper III, Carnivores

 

Tuesday, July 23
The twins are doing really well! We are still swapping them about every three hours and that continues to go well. Each one is weighed before he goes back to Lun Lun and then weighed when he is removed from Lun Lun. That is one way that we can tell if the cub has nursed. The cubs usually gain 2-8 grams in a three hour period with Lun Lun, which is great. Yesterday and today we started to see some bigger gains, especially by the larger cub. He has gained 15 and 18 grams in a couple of his sessions with Lun Lun. That’s impressive! 

The cubs are also starting to look more like giant pandas. Their skin is turning black in the areas where their black fur will grow. This change in coloration starts with the eye patches, then the ears, and then becomes noticeable on the shoulders and legs. In another few days the black areas will become very distinctive. Then the fur will start growing in. By the time they are one month old, they will look like the mini giant pandas they are.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, July 22
Can Lun Lun tell the cubs apart?
I don’t think Lun Lun can tell the cubs apart and I don’t think she realizes that she is caring for two cubs. Giant pandas do not seem to have a mechanism for differentiating between cubs. They do not even differentiate between their own cubs and cubs from other females. Our colleagues in Chengdu have been able to take great advantage of this. Because they have several females who give birth around the same time, if one mother does not care for her cub it can be given to an experienced mother who will care for it just like her own cub. I have watched mothers in Chengdu care for two cubs of their own and two cubs from another female. All four cubs were alternated with the mother. The cubs can even be quite different in size and age and the mother will still accept them. This surrogate method has helped many cubs survive and be raised by a mother rather than humans. 

It may seem strange that a female would waste energy caring for cubs that aren’t hers. But it makes sense that giant pandas would not have evolved a mechanism to differentiate between cubs. They are solitary in the wild and a mother would normally never come in contact with another female’s cub. So, there is no reason for the ability to tell cubs apart to have evolved. That ability is common in social living species but not in solitary species. There have been studies on wild polar bears that have found mothers accompanied by yearling cubs that were unrelated to the mothers. So, polar bear mothers also don’t seem to have the ability to differentiate their cubs from another female’s cubs. The authors think that the mix up occurred when polar bear mothers congregated around found sources, like a garbage area, the cubs would sometimes leave with the wrong mother and the mother didn’t notice. Like giant pandas, polar bear mothers are normally alone with their cubs and would not encounter another female’s cubs. But with changes to the polar bears’ environment and the need to exploit other food sources, some polar bears are coming into contact with each other more than is typical for the species.
 
When Lun Lun’s twins are around four months old, they will be able to walk and follow Lun Lun. From then on, they can be with Lun Lun at the same time. Then I think she will realize there are two cubs. I don’t think that will faze her one bit. She will take it all in stride, like she has everything else, and continue to be an outstanding mom. 
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 

Friday, July 19
Both cubs continue to do really well. They have both surpassed their birth weights and we are really happy about that. Lun Lun continues to do really well with the cub swaps too. She is spending more time resting near the window we reach through to remove the cub. So, that makes it easier. She is also more interested in the sugar cane we offer her for the cub. Sometimes when she is not near the window, we can call to her and she will move over. But sometimes she is sleeping and it takes longer to get her in position to do the swap. There have been a few times when the cub in the incubator has been really hungry and calling loudly, but Lun Lun is sleeping soundly with the other cub. In those cases, we have sometimes had to reach in and pat her or scratch her to wake her up. She has been remarkably tolerant of all this. 

I'm sure this seems strange to many of you, because she is a bear. Shouldn't she be protective of her cubs? I can tell you from observing lots of giant panda mothers at the Chengdu Zoo and Chengdu Research Base during my study of maternal behavior that those mothers also behaved like Lun Lun. I think that the best way for a giant panda mother to protect her cub in the first few weeks is to hold it. She can't risk putting it down to chase away a threat, because the cub might get cold or accidentally stepped on or snatched away by a quick predator. So, the mom holds her cub despite distractions around her. I'm sure some of this tolerance is because these are mothers born in captivity who are used to people. But there are a few cases in which field researchers have been able to approach wild giant panda mothers in their dens. So, I don't think the behavior of captive mothers is extremely different from the behavior of wild mothers.
 
Our colleagues in Chengdu were the first ones to realize that people can take advantage of this behavior and use it to swap twins so that both cubs have a very good chance to survive. Before the swapping technique was first used in 1990 at the Chengdu Zoo, no captive born panda twins survived. One of the cubs always died within a few days.
 
Lun Lun's tolerance will not last. In a few weeks, she will start putting her cubs down and will gradually leave them for longer periods of time to eat. But if she hears a cub call, she will come back in a hurry and she will be aggressive if she thinks her cubs are being threatened. Lucky for us, we will be able to shift her into another den when she leaves a cub and make the swap quickly and quietly while she is away. It's great system and we are really fortunate to have the guidance of our colleagues in Chengdu to know how to do it in just the right way.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Thursday, July 18
The twins are doing great! It is normal for newborns to lose weight after birth. This happens in humans and has been documented in numerous species. It is also true for giant pandas. The initial weight loss is because of fluid loss. Also, colostrum is important for transferring antibodies and immune cells to the newborn, but it is low in calories and fat. It takes a day or two after birth for the mother to start producing milk. It takes newborns a few days to a week or more to regain the weight they lose after birth. The twins lost weight after birth, but they gained weight steadily yesterday and today. That is a great sign that they are healthy and will continue to grow and remain strong. They are nearing their birth weights now. The larger one is 139.1 grams and the smaller one is 97.1 grams. We think they will reach their birth weights tonight or tomorrow. That is quicker than we expected and we are really happy about it. Also, we have not supplemented the cubs with formula since the first day. So, all of the weight gain is because they are nursing really well and thriving on Lun Lun’s milk. We are thrilled with this and we are so lucky that Lun Lun is such an excellent mother. 
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, July 17
Knowing that many, many people are waiting and watching on live camera, how nerve wracking is it to be the one to confirm that Lun Lun’s water had broken? Oh just slightly.  Luckily this year she made it pretty obvious and I felt very confident when I made that phone call, knowing that it would be the start of a very big night. I just didn’t realize how big! For every birth we prepare exactly the same as we have this year. The protocols get updated, the 24 hours shifts begin, the building’s daily activities get rearranged in preparation for the nursery set up, everything gets disinfected, and most importantly, the nursery gets set up. Zoo Atlanta’s Veterinary and Animal Management teams are always prepared for any scenario that might occur, and Monday evening was the best example of the exceptional preparation and detail that goes into planning a panda birth. We all sat in the control room watching Lun  Lun on the same video feed that many of you were watching. There were cheers all around when we saw the first cub arrive. Then we paused to begin our monitoring of mother and cub when we were as surprised as you! In Zoo Atlanta fashion, we were prepared. Our amazing team jumped into action and had everything we needed at our fingertips, thanks to our pre-prepared nursery.

Lun and the cubs are doing very well with the swapping. It is always calm for her and while we try to do it every few hours, it is only done when she provides an opportune moment. We make it positive for her by always giving her sugar cane and offering her water, bamboo, biscuits, and any treat she could want. Her favorite is the sugar cane, she never turns it down! Stay tuned for many more updates, and for more “insider information”, subscribe to our Cub Confidential emails. You won’t be disappointed!
Jenny
Keeper III, Carnivores

Tuesday, July 16
The panda team is tired and a little stressed, but happy! So far, both cubs are doing well. We are fortunate that both were born a healthy weight and strong. Sometimes one twin is very small. As you all know, Lun Lun is a fantastic mom, and she's even more impressive this time. The cubs are being alternated with her, which is a technique first developed by our colleagues in Chengdu and used successfully for many cubs. Lun Lun is such a good mom, though, that she is reluctant to give up whichever cub she has. So, we have not been able to swap the cubs as frequently as we would like. Because of that, both have been supplemented with some formula. Both are doing well with this. Their condition and Lun Lun's behavior will continue to guide our actions. The next few days are especially critical. So, please continue to keep us in your thoughts. We can use the good vibes!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD, 
Curator of Mammals

 

Panda Developmental Timeline

Monday, July 15

TWINS! Lun Lun gave birth to two cubs at 6:21 pm Eastern.

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Lun Lun is officially in labor! Her water broke just before 5 p.m., check out the video one of our Facebook fans got of her water breaking.

Monday, July 15
Over the last couple of nights, we have seen Lun Lun's behavior change somewhat as she gets closer to giving birth. During the first half of last week, Lun Lun slept almost constantly and rarely moved. Now she appears much more restless.  She is spending more time shifting positions and trying to find a good place and position in which to nap. When she chooses to sleep in the nest box, she also sometimes spends some time positioning her nesting material around her. Last night, I watched her cover her back with a light dusting of hay. It didn't last long though because she quickly decided that was not the best place for a nap and took off to her other den for a little while.  

Stay tuned - it looks like it won't be much longer before we have a new little bundle to share. And don't forget to subscribe to Cub Confidential for exclusive photos and videos of Lun Lun and cub (once she/he arrives)!
Jennifer
Keeper I, Mammals