PANDAMONIUM 2. You You’s Tale : English Language

{“en”:”This panda’s new-born cub is lucky to be alive. She nearly died during a breech birth. She now joins a rapidly growing family of pandas, artificially created to save the species. But the process of producing pandas isn’t simple and meddling with Mother Nature can sometimes cause more problems than it solves. This remote part of Sichuan in Western China is home to one of the world’s most loved, but endangered species. High on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, the damp climate is ideal for growing bamboo and perfect for giant pandas. But there are still only around 1600 giant pandas left in the wild, and although they’ve always been rare, they’re now teetering on the brink of extinction. So here in the heart of the panda’s natural homeland the Wolong Conservation and Research Centre was created to try to produce more pandas.

Although the demise of giant pandas is largely due to habitat destruction by humans, and Wolong wouldn’t help wild pandas, it would be a first step towards preventing the species from dying out. A formidable task, since all previous attempted. At breeding pandas in captivity had faile Almost a quarter of a century later, Wolong has achieved what was once thought impossible. 2006 was the best year ever, when the Centre produced 18 panda cubs. One year on and 11 cubs have already been born and as Autumn approaches more are expected. There are now more than 60 pandas at the Centre and another 70 live in zoos and reserves elsewhere. The sight of so many pandas clowning around might rouse the spirits of the most solemn cynics but pandas are naturally solitary creatures, so these are scenes never witnessed in the wild.

Passing the panda production test with flying colours, or even just in black and white, isn’t as simple as it seems. The process of producing all these pandas brings all kinds of unforeseen problems. This is Lu Lu. Not a female panda, as the name might suggest, but a healthy adult male. Lu Lu is a star stud at Wolong and the father of quite a number of the Centre’s panda cubs. He’s testosterone-fuelled testimony to Wolong’s success and in his own way Lu Lu’s done a great deal to protect pandas from extinction. This is Lu Lu’s current passion. She’s called Xi Mei, which means happy and lucky girl. Lu Lu! Lu Lu! But Wu’s love is not enough for Lu Lu. The only female he really desires is Xi Mei. And this year for the first time, he’s been stopped from “doing his thing” by circumstances beyond his control. Some of the seeds of Lu Lu’s success are scattered among Wolong’s breeding pens where the mothers came on heat as usual in the Spring. They’ve since given birth to 10 cubs and more are expected very soon.

As Lu Lu’s services aren’t required again until next Spring, he’s now in a separate pen on the other side of the Centre. Expected to bide his time eating bamboo, Lu Lu now spends many hours banging against the wall and door of his pen. All because of Xi Mei. Xi Mei’s changed cycle was inconvenient for Wolong and artificial insemination was highly unsatisfactory for Lu Lu.

But the business of making panda babies means overcoming all kinds of obstacles that even Lu Lu might not normally encounter. If Xi Mei’s is carrying Lu Lu’s cub she won’t display any symptoms for some time. And it will be difficult to know when to look out for those symptoms. A panda’s period of gestation varies wildly from 3 to 5 months The usual maximum pregnancy period for a few of the other pandas has almost expired and they still haven’t given birth. You You is the only panda who still seems to be expecting. She’s been pacing around her pen and is obviously restless. These are typical signs of a panda near the end of their pregnancy, but as yet nothing more has happened and no-one knows if and when she’ll give birth. You You’s keeper Wu Dai Fu has worked at Wolong for more than 8 years. In charge of caring for the pregnant mothers and raising new-born panda cubs, Wu probably knows more about the pregnant pandas than almost anyone else here and he’s been keeping a close eye on You You. As it’s the end of September and she was impregnated in April, You You should be very close to giving birth, but the only way anyone can be really sure is with ultrasound.

You You has given birth before and unlike some of the other pandas, has been trained to undergo ultrasound scanning, but she is still more reluctant to enter the cage than some of the other mothers. But her keeper Wu trained in the United States, where he learned and has since perfected a simple and unusual technique for persuading You You to relax and remain calm. With You You calmed by the clicking and the scanning fully underway, Wu hands over to a colleague, as he’s anxious to see for himself if You You is expecting The scan shows she is pregnant.

And the scan shows something even more significant. Breeding panda twins has contributed enormously to Wolong’s success. In the wild, pandas never raise twins and will always abandon one cub after birth. At Wolong they’ve perfected a simple method of raising twin cubs, called swap rearing, which has doubled the cub survival rate and had an obvious impact on the captive panda population. One cub stays with its mother after birth and the other is nursed in an incubator. Then every so often they’re swapped over. It’s a simple technique and highly effective. And while it’s their turn in the nursery, the cubs have a taste of one of the other things that have boosted their survival rate. The milk, a mixture of mother’s milk and formula milk, was initially developed by American biologists and perfected at Wolong and it’s improved the survival rate of panda cubs enormously.

When a cub is with its mother, it suckles up to 14 times a day. As with humans the mother’s milk contains colostrum, which gives newborn cubs some protection against disease. So including this in the bottle-fed milk is essential. And the pandas seem to thrive on it. Usually new born pandas weigh around 100 grammes, so this cub, was almost twice the normal weight at birth. His mother may be a hero, but she still can’t cope with two cubs at once. So the burden of bringing up extra babies is in the hands of Wolong staff. And nursing cubs which would otherwise have been abandoned and died brings all kinds of responsibilities. Wei Ming and his colleagues have to become surrogate mothers to their young charges, cleaning, feeding and even burping them. They must ensure that when a panda is in the incubator and not with its mother, it receives equal care and attention. In the wild a female panda lives for up to 30 years. She gives birth around 7 times during her life, with a break of at least a couple of years in between.

But in a bid to save the species and produce plenty of pandas as quickly as possible, some of Wolong’s pandas, such as Princess have given birth 4 years in a row. These are some of last year’s batch of cubs, including Princess’ offspring, and now they’re all about a year-old. They were separated from their mothers when they were about 6 or 7 months old, much younger than they would in the wild. Usually a wild panda cub stays with its mother until it’s around a year and a half. It’s not natural, but neither is the breeding rate or the nursing of twins, so separating the cubs early means that mothers like Princess can rest before breeding again. And for the cubs, it means there are plenty of pandas to play with. But tucked away in a private panda pen on the far side of the Centre, there’s a lone panda cub. This is Qing Qing. Like the other adolescent Wolong panda cubs, Qing Qing was conceived in Spring 2006, but unlike the other panda cubs she’s only half their age, so she’s kept separately and plays with her keepers rather than her peers.

Her isolation from the other adolescent pandas isn’t ideal, and continual contact only with humans might affect her long-term behaviour. But while there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly unusual about Qing Qing, if it had been left to Mother Nature she might not even exist. The record gestation period seems to have had no detrimental effect on Qing Qing’s physical development. But it’s not hard to imagine the furore and concern, if a human being was pregnant for twice the normal time. On its own, Qing Qing’s mother’s prolonged pregnancy is simply an unusual incident. But there are increasing signs that tackling the problem of pandas’ extinction by treating the symptoms rather than the cause is giving rise to all sorts of oddities. Wolong has more than achieved its initial objectives. Some might dismiss the Centre as just a glorified panda factory, but there’s no doubt that Wolong’s work means that the planet’s panda population is safe.

But while creating so many pandas solves one problem, it creates plenty of others. Catering for all the pandas and cubs is a constant headache. Wolong’s Pandas munch their way through thousands of kilogrammes of bamboo every single day, much of which has to be grown and collected off-site. And bamboo isn’t very nutritious, particularly for pregnant and nursing mothers, so Wolong has had to cook up something special; panda cake. Every day the Centre has to make around 40 kilos of panda cake. Giant pandas aren’t cheap and each year Wolong has to raise around 3 and a half million dollars for their upkeep. As China’s national symbol, the pandas are of course supported by the State. Wolong also receives income from around 130,000 visitors who come to the Centre every year from all over the world. They pay to see the pandas precisely because there are so many of them. Which gives rise to another major problem where to put all the pandas and how to accommodate and cater for all the people who come to see the pandas. As a result Wolong is constantly on the move. With an obvious impact on the pandas’ surroundings. And there’s always a worry that goodwill and money aren’t the only things visitors might bring with them.

Pandas are susceptible to all kinds of parasites, infection and diseases including tuberculosis, hepatitis and even anthrax. The risks are heightened by so many pandas being confined together in a limited area. As the tourist season finally ends, the crowds start to thin and drift away. Autumn draws on and at the breeding pens, the panda birthing season is also coming to a close. While You You’s scan has confirmed she’s expecting twins, 2 other pandas don’t appear to be pregnant and are being moved. Even though Xi Xi mated with Lu Lu in the Spring unusually it wasn’t a success. You You’s new neighbour is Duchess. A four year-old, she’s one of Princess’s first cubs and will join the breeding group next Spring when it’s hoped she’ll make Princess a grandmother for the first time.

But You You, doesn’t take kindly to the newcomer and makes her feelings felt. Duchess decides to keep out of You You’s way at the other side of her pen. Then suddenly You You stops growling at Duchess and starts making a different noise. She’s moaning and showing the first signs of going into labour at last. The first task is to persuade You You to go inside. They’re cautious in case her condition makes her aggressive. It’s not unknown for pandas to lash out and cause serious injury. In the wild, pandas retreat to a cave or den to give birth and the indoor pen serves the same purpose. It also means that she’s easier to reach if something goes wrong. Although You You is obviously going into labour soon, her waters haven’t broken and that may take some time.

Not that many of You You’s fellow residents are terribly concerned about time. Even in the wild, for up to 18 hours a day, a panda’s pace of life is pretty slow. They eat efficiently and don’t exert themselves too much. Late in the day, after Wolong has closed, there’s a small patch of liquid on the floor of You You’s pen. Wu takes samples to check, and confirms that You You’s waters have broken and she’s going into the final stages of labour.

It’s after 6 in the evening and most of Wolong’s keepers and staff have already left for the day, but even though this is expected to be the last birth of the season and nearly a dozen cubs have already been born, it’s still a special event and many members of staff come back to the Centre. There’s a tense atmosphere because the last birth was a breech and the cub could have died. One of the problems of repeated success, is there’s a risk of regarding panda births as routine. At Wolong, there’s no room for such complacency as even the best laid plans of men and pandas can go BWFY.

You You’s labour is in stark contrast with Mao Mao’s, the last panda who gave birth. She was quiet and reserved. You You is highly agitated. She starts banging against the window. It’s toughened glass and hopefully won’t break or splinter. To everyone’s relief they don’t have to wait more than a couple hours for the first cub to be born. It happens suddenly, while You You’s back is turned. The keepers only know about the birth when the cub announces its own arrival. Once the cub has settled, they need to take it from You You. Partly to check that it’s okay and partly to keep You You free for giving birth to the other twin. But You You, of course doesn’t know any of this, and naturally doesn’t want to let go of her baby.

But weak and exhausted by the labour, she’s defeated by Wu’s persistence. The cub is snatched away, leaving You You looking bewildered and almost as if she’d imagined having a baby. Thankfully the other young cubs in the nursery haven’t started hearing yet and remain sweetly oblivious to the uproar from the new arrival. The checks at the nursery confirm that the cub is, as thought, perfectly healthy and You You can now have a break e. Before giving birth a second tim No one knows how long or short that break will be. For hours You You dispels any doubts about the distress and agony of her labour.

At midnight, 6 long hours after the first cub was born, the keepers decide to help You You by inducing the second baby. The drug should take effect very quickly within a few minutes. But a quarter of an hour later, it obviously hasn’t worked and You You simply rolls over and eventually goes to sleep. While her keepers struggle to stay awake. Finally after dawn breaks at around 12 hours after You You’s first cub was delivered, its twin has been born. But the silence is ominous. The cub is still-born. Then to the keeper’s horror, he realises that You You isn’t licking the cub any more. You You’s behaviour, though repugnant even to her keeper, is completely natural. In the wild the second twin would have died anyway. Wolong has successfully increased the overall survival rate of panda cubs, mainly by rearing twins something that would never happen in the wild. In this case, Mother Nature has prevailed. Late October, just 6 weeks after You You gave birth. 99% of a giant panda’s growth and development happens after birth. So You You’s surviving first-born cub can now see and hear when she’s the right way up.

She weighs almost 2 kilos, about 20 times more than at birth. But next door, her neighbour Hua Mei is alone without either of her cubs. One is in the nursery of course, having been swapped. But the other is outside with a very concerned keeper. To the keepers’ obvious relief, it doesn’t seem to be a serious eye problem, but Hua Mei’s cub is taken to the nursery for a check-up just in case. It’s not the only one. Mao Mao’s cub is also being brought in, with an upset stomach. The cub was absolutely silent when born, and everyone worried she might have suffocated, but she’s since clearly found her voice! And back at the breeding pens her mother Mao-Mao is equally loud and very aggressive towards her neighbours.

Whether she’s distressed about her sick cub or suffering some sort of post-natal aggression, no-one’s sure. It might even be a bad reaction to a new panda on the block. Xi Mei. It looks like Lu Lu may become a father again. Happily Hua Mei and Mao Mao’s cubs have both been given the all clear and have returned from the nursery. Like the rest of this season’s new-born cubs, it’s highly likely they’ll survive into adulthood. As, safe within Wolong’s walls, pandas are no longer an endangered species Quite the contrary. The way forward for Wolong lies outside the walls. For the planet’s pandas to be truly safe from extinction, at least some of Wolong’s pandas must be released into the wild and that’s the next challenge.

Will these pandas that have been artificially bred, and handled by humans since birth, have any chance of survival. “}

As found on Youtube

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