According to the World Wildlife Fund, only 1,864 giant pandas live in the wild in China. In efforts to boost their numbers along with geopolitical relations, China over the years has loaned giant pandas to other countries, including the United States.
Pandas are naturally solitary figures, and females ovulate just once a year, making it hard for them to reproduce naturally, which is why zoos and breeding centers in China rely on artificial insemination and intervention from experts, according to National Geographic.
Pandas also find it challenging to “get in the mood” for reproducing, while some have difficulty knowing what to do to mate, experts say.
In an announcement shared on its official website, the zoo confirmed that the first cub was born at 1:03 a.m. and the second at 1:10 a.m. It said their births were a result of breeding efforts that began in March. The cubs are tiny, weighing less than one-third of a pound each.
Delphine Delord, associate director of the zoo, described the event as “exceptional,” while Rodolphe Delord, the president of the zoo, said the babies were “magnificent.”
On Monday, the zoo’s Twitter feed was overflowing with congratulatory messages and updates about the cubs. Many thanked staff members for their efforts to help the pandas reproduce. Chinese vets were present at the birth and assisted Huan Huan through her labor.
In a tweet, the zoo said the cubs have been nicknamed “Fleur de Coton” and “Petite Neige,” meaning cotton flower and little snow. It said the pair will be officially named after 100 days, as is tradition in China.
Huan Huan and her partner, Yuan Zi, were loaned to France from China in 2012. The pair welcomed their first cubs in 2017, although one died shortly after birth, the Associated Press reported at the time.
The zoo opted to share photos and video footage from the birth, saying it wanted to highlight the “fragility of their lives.”
Yuan Meng, who is male, was the first panda cub born in France — a moment that was widely celebrated by experts and officials given the low reproduction rates among the black-and-white bears.
Although pandas are no longer classified as endangered, experts argue more needs to be done to protect their natural habitat so that in years to come they are not found only in captivity.