On Aug. 23, twin pandas were born at a breeding center in southwestern China — welcome news for the rare and much-loved bamboo-eating bear after climate change and loss of habitat had threatened the species’ survival.
The cubs, which are male and female, were born at the Qinling Panda Research Center in Shaanxi Province, and are the second pair of twins born to their mother: Qin Qin. Another panda named Yong Yong also gave birth to twins at the same center earlier this month.
Rebounding panda population
A notice from the center revealed that the male cub weighed 176.4 grams at the time of birth, while the female weighed 151.2 grams. Both cubs are in good condition and thriving, according to state media reports.
Qin Qin, born in 2013, is the first giant panda bred in captivity at the same center, and had previously given birth to twin females in 2020.
Though state media gave no information on the father, Chinese veterinarians have been known to use artificial insemination to boost the population of the animals in recent years. Giant pandas rarely reproduce in the wild, and rely strictly on a diet of bamboo in the mountains of western China.
The efforts to increase China’s giant panda population are seemingly paying off — with some captive-bred pandas even being released into the wild. The population of wild pandas has also seen a gradual increase, reaching an estimated 1,800 today. About 500 others live in captivity in zoos and reserves — with the majority located within the mountainous, heavily forested areas of Sichuan Province.
Habitat loss, environmental crises
Encroachment on the pandas’ natural habitat by the farming industry has reduced the animals’ natural living space — cutting them off from other populations they could breed with, and restricting their access to bamboo-rich areas.
In addition, large parts of China have been experiencing extreme weather in the form of record-breaking heat waves and droughts. The scorching temperatures have swept through over 85 cities across the country — affecting more than 600 million people.
According to state media reports, many regions were logging temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in July and August — which can result in life-threatening heat-stroke.
Meanwhile, other parts of the country such as Chongqing, Qingdao and Shandong Province have experienced torrential downpours that have resulted in dangerous flooding — submerging roads and trapping residents inside collapsing homes.
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Like much of the country, Sichuan Province has been hit by soaring heatwaves and droughts that have sparked forest fires and resulted in the withering of crops and forests. The state’s local government has warned of “particularly severe” power outages after a plan to boost the country’s coal-powered plants and mining sector was postponed.
In mid-August, Sichuan authorities announced the temporary closing of most factories and “introduced electricity rationing” in hopes of ensuring sufficient power for domestic usage.
The measures are expected to remain in place until Aug. 25 when rain is forecast, in hopes rainfall and cooler temperatures will help alleviate complications brought about by the heatwaves.
Even Shanghai’s Central Meteorological Observatory issued several “high-temperature red warnings,” — the highest level of alert in the country, and warned its residents that temperatures had reached life-threatening levels.
Authorities revealed on Aug. 22 that decorative lightning in areas around the Bund and the financial district would be suspended throughout the week in order to “save electricity,” and ensure sufficient power for domestic use.