UPDATE: The smaller of the two panda cubs died on Wednesday around 2:00 p.m., according to a statement from the National Zoo. From the moment that the first panda was born, the newborns were handled by humans and turned this way and that under the glaring camera lights. It was inevitable that the poor little cub was too unthrifty to survive, but in nature the mother would not have manipulated him, force-fed him, and treated him like an exhibit.
Originally posted on August 25, 2015:
Baby animals are big business for zoos, so dollar signs must have flashed in National Zoo officials’ eyes when Mei Xiang, a giant panda, gave birth to not one but two cubs at the zoo on Saturday.
A “panda cam” streams live footage 24/7 of Mei Xiang in the tiny cubicle where her twins were born months after she was artificially inseminated. The mother bear tosses and turns on the hard floor and often props her feet up against the walls in an attempt to stretch out her legs. Periodically, members of the zoo’s “panda team” swoop in and snatch one of Mei Xiang’s babies away from her for bottle-feeding and “evaluation.” Separating panda cubs from their mothers at a young age can be a traumatic experience for both the new mother and her infants, who can end up suffering serious social and behavioral consequences.
PETA denounces the removal of the panda cubs from their mother and the public-relations fiasco occurring at the National Zoo, an institution with a long history of manipulating animals in research, splitting apart bonded animals to send to other institutions for exhibit, transferring animals under shady circumstances, and artificially inseminating pandas.
Our panda cubs are doing well, but the panda team had a challenging night. When they tried to swap the cubs at 11p.m.,…
Posted by Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute on Monday, August 24, 2015
Observations of panda cubs show that if given the choice, they will stay in almost constant contact with their mothers’ bodies during the first several weeks of their lives. Studies have also shown that cubs who are removed from their mothers at an early age are less active than those raised by their mothers, likely because mother pandas act as the primary playmates for their young. In addition, cubs raised by their mothers spent more time manipulating bamboo, suggesting that their mothers taught them this important skill.
Removing babies as if they’re nothing more than future exhibits to be preserved and treating the mother panda as simply a baby-making machine while disrespecting and disregarding her maternal instincts as well as fighting with her to remove her infants in the name of “animal science” is unethical, unthinkable, and wrong.
There is simply no substitute for a mother’s loving care, and the National Zoo’s appalling record of panda deaths shows what happens when humans try to manipulate and interfere with these animals’ reproduction. Two years ago, Mei Xiang gave birth to a stillborn cub, and in 2012, she gave birth to one with liver abnormalities, who died six days later. Since the 1980s, six other giant panda cubs have died at the National Zoo. All the cubs born to the first pandas at the zoo, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, died within a few days.
If the National Zoo really cares about pandas, it should stop treating pandas like breeding machines and leave the care of these cubs to the real expert: their mother.