Custom Search

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Panda of tiny feet on the baby ward: The clinic that is giving an endangered species a giant future

By Mail On Sunday Reporter

So vulnerable : A one-week old panda lies in the incubator at Chengdu breeding base in China, where vets have developed a method to protect twins

Pale, blind and weighing just a few ounces, this fragile newborn looks much like a mouse. Yet it is part of an amazing breeding programme saving the giant panda from extinction.

Just five days later, the cub appears remarkably relaxed lying on its back in an incubator. It has developed its distinctive black-and-white markings, even if its fur is still sparse.

Watched over by vigilant experts and given the kind of care found in the best maternity wing, the panda is one of 136 born in captivity at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Province, China.

Full marks: At 12 days old, the rapidly changing cub is recognisably a panda

The vets there have boosted survival rates by actively intervening when mothers have twins – the case in half of all panda births.

Mothers almost always abandon one cub because they lack the milk and energy to care for two.

So the vets remove one cub at birth and place it in an incubator, while the mother cares for the other.

Then the twins are switched up to ten times a day so the mother feeds and cares for both while being under the impression that there is only one.

While in the incubator, the absent twin receives a top-up of formula milk, while the other gets its share of mother’s milk. The twin-swapping technique has finally opened the way to a 100 per cent survival rate in newborn captive cubs.

Bearing up: The 12-day-old cub is growing quickly but is still easily held in a human hand

BBC producer Sorrel Downer was given unprecedented access to the Chengdu base while making the film Panda Makers, to be screened this week.

She said: ‘We filmed 17-year-old Li Li successfully giving birth, to the tremendous relief of her keepers. In the past she had only given birth to stillborns or cubs that died in days.

‘While Li Li’s first healthy baby cub was already suckling, she produced a second. The vets quickly removed it to the warmth of the incubator.

‘The cubs, Wen Li and Ya Li, both survived. We watched as they got fatter and fatter, and as their eyes opened at around two months. At four-and-a-half months, we witnessed their first uncertain steps in the garden.

Double take: Li Li with Wen Li, one of her twin cubs. Her two youngsters have been repeatedly swapped between an incubator and Li Li to make her think they are the same cub. Normally panda mothers abandon one twin

‘Li Li’s bond with her twins was strong. She was very maternal and restless when they were away. Wen Li and Ya Li now have their own pen which they share with two other cubs.’

The base was founded just over 20 years ago with six rescued pandas and is now the world’s leading breeding centre.

Until 50 years ago no one anywhere had bred a giant panda in captivity. Now there are 300 captive-born pandas worldwide, which experts believe is a stable breeding population and enough to start the process of reintroducing the endangered animals to the wild.

Sorrel said: ‘There are those who argue that panda conservation is a waste of money.

'But if we cannot protect the giant panda, the icon of global conservation, what chance do we have of protecting those species which do not intrigue us, entertain us, and command such passionate adoration the world over?’

* Natural World Special: Panda Makers is on BBC2 on Tuesday at 8pm.

source: dailymail


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Powered by Blogger