Surprise! Giant panda Mei Xiang has given birth to twins at National Zoo

Pandemonium, no doubt, has broken out at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

The Washington, DC facility posted to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Periscope and live-streamed news of Mei Xiang’s successful deliveries on Saturday night. The zoo said the 17-year-old panda’s water broke at 4:32 p.m. and she was already having contractions. She gave  birth to her first cub at 5:35 p.m.

“Mei Xiang reacted to the cub by picking it up,” the facility said.


“All of us are thrilled that Mei Xiang has given birth. The cub is vulnerable at this tiny size but we know Mei is an excellent mother,” zoo director Dennis Kelly said. “Thank you to all of our excellent keepers, veterinarians, researchers and Chinese colleagues who contributed and therefore deserve credit for this conservation success.”

Then, the zoo was surprised when Mei Xiang delivered a second cub at 10:07 p.m.

“The panda team retrieved one of the cubs per ‘twin hand rearing’ protocol and has placed it in an incubator. It appears to be in good health,” the facility said.

Veterinarians first saw evidence of a fetus on an ultrasound on Aug. 19.

But to add intrigue to this unusual birth story, scientists will now have to figure out the father – or fathers – of the cubs.

Scientists artificially inseminated the panda over two days in April, first with frozen semen flown overseas from a panda named Hui Hui, who lives at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong. He was considered the best genetic matches for Mei Xiang, in part to help “preserve the genetic diversity” of the species in human hands. But to be safe, the facility also used fresh semen from its male giant panda, Tian Tian.

DNA analysis will determine the sire of the cubs. The gender of the cubs is also unknown.

Mei Xiang had been nest building, spending time in her den, sleeping more, eating less and cradling toys. Now, experts says she’ll spent most of her time in her den for the next two weeks with one cub.

Mei Xiang has given birth to two surviving cubs: a male Tai Shan (born July 9, 2005) who lives in China, and Bao Bao (Born Aug. 23, 2013), a female who will stay at the zoo until she turns 4 before returning to China. Those cubs were also the result of artificial insemination.

Here’s how the zoo told the story on social media, which frankly, is already getting as much attention as a Royal baby.





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