Panda Updates – Monday, February 19
Over the past year and a half, Ya Lun and Xi Lun have passed numerous milestones in their lives, and we have been there for all of them. Some of these milestones include surviving the first tenuous few days of life after birth; growing their characteristic black-and-white coats at around 30 days; crawling at 3 months; receiving their names at 100 days; walking at 4 months; climbing at 5 months; experiencing the outside world at 7 months; eating leafeater biscuits and fruit at 11 months; and eating bamboo at 13 months. All of these have been very exciting to watch, and now that they are fast approaching 18 months old, Ya Lun and Xi Lun are ready to take that first step toward their next milestone: independence from Mom. Starting today, we will begin the process of weaning Ya Lun and Xi Lun from their mother Lun Lun. In the wild, giant pandas are usually weaned by their mothers between the ages of 17 and 20 months.
As we did with their older siblings, our giant panda care team will be using a “stepwise” process, originally developed and implemented by partners at San Diego Zoo Global, that has been used very successfully and effectively with all of Lun Lun’s previous cubs: Mei Lan, Xi Lan, Po and Mei Lun and Mei Huan. The roughly two-week process, which focuses on gradually increasing the time the cubs are apart from Lun Lun, will conclude the first week of March. Weaning is a very natural and necessary transition in the life of any young mammal, but especially for species that don’t have social lifestyles in the wild. Giant pandas, like other bear species, are naturally solitary animals, meaning that they live alone after they attain sub-adulthood, coming together with other giant pandas only during the breeding season.
Ya Lun and Xi Lun have both been eating bamboo as the main portion of their diet, along with leafeater biscuits and fruit, for several months now, and they no longer have a reliance on Lun Lun’s milk for sustenance. If you’ve been watching PandaCam, you’ve probably seen that Lun Lun has already begun this process naturally. In the wild, she would either simply walk away from them, or would potentially chase them away from her. Lun Lun has been spending more time alone, away from the cubs, than she has in previous months, signaling to us that she is ready.
Ya Lun and Xi Lun do have one distinction over their wild counterparts, however. They were born twins. When giant panda mothers have twins in the wild, it is extremely rare that both cubs would survive. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have given Lun Lun just enough help to enable her to successfully rear both cubs. Because Ya Lun and Xi Lun are twins, and have spent their entire lives together, they will remain together after the weaning process has concluded, just as their sisters Mei Lun and Mei Huan did. Weaning has not been a traumatic experience for any of Lun Lun’s previous cubs, but the fact that they are littermates makes this an even easier transition for the twins. Because they spend so much time together eating, sleeping, and playing, they are not quite as dependent on their mother for stimulation. Single cubs use their mother as a playmate as well as a teacher, but as littermates, Ya Lun and Xi Lun have each other for play. Living independently from Lun Lun will enable Ya Lun and Xi Lun to continue to develop into normal, healthy, adult giant pandas, but in order to get to that point, they must take this important first step.
We’ll be continuing to update everyone on the process here on the blogs and on our social networks. If you’d like to learn more, be sure to tune in for a Facebook Live event with us this Thursday, February 22, at 9 a.m. EST. We hope to see you there! Thanks for following the giant pandas.
Assistant Curator of Mammals