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Giant panda gives birth to twin cubs at Japan's oldest zoo

Helping giant pandas make a comeback
Helping giant pandas make a comeback 13:29

Just a month before the start of the Olympic Games in Japan, the country is celebrating another exciting occasion. A giant panda has given birth to tiny twin cubs at a Japanese zoo — a joyous moment for the conservation of the vulnerable species. 

On Wednesday, 15-year-old giant panda Shin Shin gave birth to two cubs. It has been about 4 years since she last mated with her 15-year-old male partner Ri Ri, and the most recent birth marks the first time that twins have been born at the zoo. 

The twins were born just after midnight, about an hour and a half apart. One weighed close to four and a half ounces, but the weight of the other is still unknown, as is the sex of both pandas. 

A handout image shows a giant panda Shin Shin holds one of her newly-born twin pandas at Ueno Zoological Park in Tokyo
Shin Shin holds one of her newly-born twin pandas at Ueno Zoological Park in Tokyo, Japan, on June 23, 2021, in this handout image taken and released by Tokyo Zoological Park Society. Tokyo Zoological Park Society / Reuters

The cubs have not yet been named. They join their big sister, Xiang Xiang, born in 2017. 

"Baby giant pandas are very small when they're born, so the staff will be watching over them around the clock for a while to make sure they will be growing healthily," zoo director Yutaka Fukuda said during a news conference. 

Pandas are notoriously difficult to breed, both in the wild and in captivity, as the females enter heat only once a year and can be picky about their partners. They are currently classified as "vulnerable," with only a few thousand remaining, but have been the subject of rigorous conservation efforts for years. 

Handout image shows a staff member of Ueno Zoological Park holds one of the newly-born twin pandas delivered by giant panda Shin Shin at Ueno Zoological Park in Tokyo
A staff member of Ueno Zoological Park holds one of the newly-born twin pandas delivered by giant panda Shin Shin at Ueno Zoological Park in Tokyo, Japan, on June 23, 2021, in this handout image taken and released by Tokyo Zoological Park Society. Tokyo Zoological Park Society / Reuters

"All the staff are working together to observe and protect the giant panda mother and children," the Ueno Zoo, the oldest in Japan, said in a statement. 

It is unusual for giant pandas to care for two cubs at once, so the zoo has kept one of the newborns in an incubator. When the other one finishes feeding, they will swap places.

"It is said that in most cases, when twins are born, only one will grow up. In order to raise both of them, we need to have one panda always be held by Shin Shin. We will have them take turns to nurse while the other one will be in an incubator," said the zoo's spokesperson Naoya Ohashi. 

"Once one panda finishes nursing, we will place that one in the incubator, and let the one who hasn't nursed yet be together with Shin Shin. We need to watch the feeding times for the pandas and perform this work around the clock for a few months. I believe this is the most difficult part." 

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