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Born Aug 16 (Photo taken Sept 5, 2011)
Credit: su-may on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

What's cuter than a panda? A baby panda. How about two, or even better, three? When CBC news reported that rare panda triplets had been born at Guangzhou's Chimelong Safari Park in China, I had to find out more. 

A 12-year old female panda named Ju Xiao, which means "chrysanthemum smile," was impregnated by a 17-year old male panda named Linlin in March 2014. Incredibly, in the wee hours of July 29th, she gave birth to to three tiny, pink, hairless, toothless babies - all were born within four hours of each other.Born Aug 3 (Taken Sept 5, 2011)su-may on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
 
What makes this so remarkable is that panda reproductive rates are dangerously low (only one panda cub every two years in the wild and even less in captivity).
 
So far, these triplets have survived longer than any other trio to date. In fact, an official stated, "We can only say they are surviving once they reach 6 months [of age]. For now, they are indeed the only surviving triplets."
 
The director of the China Conservation and Research Center, Zhang Heming, said there's only a 1% chance for triplet panda cubs to survive birth.
 
Even though the average adult weight of a panda is between 220 to 254 lbs (100 to 115 kg), these three panda cubs are smaller than the palm of your hand. At birth they only weighed 83, 90, and 122 grams. (By comparison, a family-sized chocolate bar is 100 grams). Pandas produce the smallest baby (in proportion to their size) of any placental mammal. At birth, panda cubs are only 1/800th their mother's weight.
 
Up next, Tom Leese reports in the following video published August 12th, 2014 by Press Association.

The Triplets are Doing Well

On August 12th, the CBC wrote that the panda baby cubs weighed between 230 and 333 grams. It sounds as though they've more than doubled their birth weight.

Dong Guixin, general manager of Chimelong Safari Park, told Qiu Quanlin from China Daily, "After nearly half a month under the care of the mother, the babies are very healthy."

Wondering why they aren't named? Me too. Apparently it's too early to identify their gender. 

As you can imagine, these cubs require 24-hour care and the warmth of an incubator. They've been brought to their mother to be nursed. I was surprised to learn that baby pandas cannot eat until they are over 6 months old when they can have small amounts of bamboo.

For the first year of life, these triplets will require their mother's milk. Panda cubs live with their mothers until they are between 18 months and 2 years old. (That's a long time for an animal in the wild).

An over 1-month old panda cub at Cheng Du Panda Base

In the wild, a mother panda can only handle one baby at a time

Over 1- month old | Cheng Du Panda Base
Credit: su-may on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Pandas Natural Habitat and Conservation Status

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), pandas once lived in a vast region of south-eastern China, Myanmar and Northern Vietnam. Today, pandas are only found in 20 isolated mountain regions in Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces. 

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has classified Ailuropoda melanoleuca (Giant Panda) as "endangered." The greatest threat to giant pandas is cleared land (for farming) and tree removal. It's believed that pandas are no longer hunted although they sometimes get caught in traps set for musk deer and other species.

Another threat appears to be the life cycle of bamboo, the main food source for pandas. At intervals of 15 - 120 years, bamboo flowers and "dies-off." Previously, pandas could migrate to other areas (with healthy bamboo) when a die-off occurred. In the 1980s, following a major die-off, pandas had to consume less-favoured types of bamboo (Johnson et al. 1988, Reid et al. 1989).

To give you an idea of where wild pandas used to be found, I used a map of their declining habitat in 2009 and outlined in black where they used to live. Their habitat is an even smaller area now - shown in red on the WWF page titled Habitat: the land of the panda.

 Habitat of the Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
Credit: Original map: IAMTHEEGGMAN / Public Domain | Text and outline of historic habitat added by article author Rose Webster August 14th, 2014

The First Year

Triplets probably named on November 6th, 2014

While round-the-clock nursing of the triplets is necessary, a feeding team is also helping the precious panda cubs retain optimal body heat in incubators.

Here's an rough outline of what we can expect (and hope for) in these developing triplets:

Panda cubs are given to their mother to nurse for between 6 and 14 times a day. Some cubs will stay latched on to their mother for up to 30 minutes at a time.Baby Panda: Lin Ping (Taken Aug 16, 2009)Pok Kusuwan (mrpokx5 on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

By 3 months of age, cubs are usually crawling. 

Traditionally, panda cubs are named when they are 100 days old which will be on November 6th, 2014. (External genitalia doesn't develop until a panda cub is several months old. DNA testing is the most reliable method of finding out their gender).

After 6 months of age, cubs can eat small amounts of bamboo.

The primary food source for the triplets will be their mother's milk for the first year of life.

When 1-year old, the panda cubs should weigh around 100 lbs. (45 kg). They will likely remain with their mother for 18 months to two years of age.

Want Another Look at the Triplets? (Only 36 seconds)

What would you name them? Leave a comment below:

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