In an awesome and rare event, two baby pandas entered the world early Tuesday morning at the Toronto Zoo.
Despite the immense time and money that humans put into panda breeding programs, Panda Cub #1 seemed unappreciative for his shot at life; the cub did not hesitate to voice his displeasure at being pushed from his mother’s womb and into a puddle of birthing liquid on the cold, hard zoo floor.
The rare and charismatic giant panda is notoriously resistant to breeding. Female pandas are only fertile for a one-to-three day period once a year, which makes reproducing in the wild hard enough. In captivity, the animals seem to lose interest in sex altogether. Efforts to encourage pandas to get it on have included (unsuccessful) experiments in panda porn and Viagra.
However, because humans have a seemingly endless willingness to throw money and resources at the panda breeding problem, success through artificial insemination is on the rise. The Toronto Zoo estimates that 60 percent of artificial inseminations result in pregnancy, which is similar to the rate from real panda-on-panda action.
Panda mom Er Shun and her two cubs are doing well, according to the Toronto Zoo, although they will be weak and vulnerable for a few days.
Normally in the wild, a panda mother will focus her resources on only one cub in the case of twins, allowing the other to die. To avoid this, the two cubs will cycle between hanging out with mom and hanging out with zoo staff, so they both get maternal milk and attention. They won’t be available for public viewing for several months.
Most estimates peg the number of giant pandas left in the wild between 1,000 and 3,000. There are close to 300 in captivity, and most of those are in China.
In order to export a panda from China, a zoo has to contribute to conservation efforts to protect the wild animals from habitat loss and poaching. They also have to make a serious financial commitment.
It costs close to $4 million a year to host a single panda with two cubs, according to National Geographic. Zoos see huge boosts in visitors and interest, but not nearly enough to cover the costs of these very particular and very spoiled beasts. They sure are lucky they’re cute.