Thursday, March 10, 2016

Baby Pandas at the Toronto Zoo

It seems like forever ago that the Toronto Zoo announced Er Shun the giant panda had undergone artificial insemination, although it's been less than a year - just last May. And then finally in September they were able to confirm that she was expecting. That delayed implantation in pandas made for a long wait. Throughout her pregnancy and the early weeks of her twins' lives there was certainly anxiety. The giant pandas are critically endangered, and the Zoo's breeding program is a key piece in conservation efforts. A lot was resting on this pregnancy!

Today, two adorable and healthy cubs are past the danger stage and enjoying life with their mom in the panda exhibit area. The male and female cubs have been named Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, respectively. These names mean Canadian Hope and Canadian Joy, which are lovely sentiments. Since their birth on October 13, 2015, the Toronto Zoo has been dutifully updating the public through images, videos and press releases, but this week the cubs are finally big and healthy enough to come out for public view. To begin, Zoo members and the media have been allowed in for a peek and a photo opp. I went on Tuesday morning to check out the little darlings.

Giant Panda mother and twin cubs
Stretch!

giant pandas eating bamboo
You start up there, Mama. I'll meet you in the middle!
Adorable isn't a strong enough word to describe them. I could have watched them for hours, if it weren't for the long line of other members and media types waiting their turn behind me. Now, pandas mostly eat and sleep from what I've seen, but watching even that is so sweet.  I love how mom was just relaxing with her bamboo and one of her babies set to work on the other end of the stalk. This was just a beautiful family moment.

The Zoo's male panda, Da Mao, may or may not be the father, as Er Shun was inseminated with sperm from three giant pandas to ensure the best chance of conception. At some point in the future, before they reach breeding age, the Chinese panda researchers will run genetic testing to determine paternity, but for now it doesn't matter, so the cubs will be spared those tests. What matters is that they are healthy, and that this breeding was successful.

male giant panda
Da Mao is pretty chill about it all.

The cubs are on limited view this week, but starting March 12 they will be in the panda exhibit and available for viewing by all Zoo visitors daily during operating hours. Since next week is March Break around here, I guarantee you there will be line-ups, so bring your patience. The pandas will be on view until 6pm, but access to the line-up for entry will be cut off at 4:30pm, to make sure everyone in line gets a chance to see these cuties. Believe me, the wait will be worth it :)

To read more about Jia Panpan & Jia Yueyue, visit http://www.torontozoo.com/GiantPandaCubs. All the updates, photos, and videos are kept there, along with an FAQ and conservation information.

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