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Mother dog nurses lesser pandas at Taiyuan zoo

TWO lesser pandas who were abandoned by their mother shortly after birth at a north China zoo are now healthy and content thanks to their competent wet nurse: a mother dog, zoo workers said Thursday.

The baby pandas were born at Taiyuan Zoo in Shanxi Province on June 25, said zoo worker Ha Guojiang.

"Their mother, the first lesser panda bred at the zoo, was taken in from a nature reserve in the northwestern Shaanxi Province at the end of April. No one knew she was pregnant. Her plump body and bushy hair disguised her protruding belly until the babies were born," said Ha.

After the panda gave birth in its pen, in broad daylight and in front of a huge crowd of visitors, it abruptly turned its back on the babies and refused to nurse them, he said. "We hurriedly went about to find a wet nurse for them."

The dog that eventually stood out of three canine candidates as a competent wet nurse was owned by a farmer in the suburbs of Taiyuan and had given birth three days before the mother panda.

"It's good-natured and has sufficient milk. The baby bears seem to like it, too," said Ha.

Compared with the baby pandas that stayed with the mother dog every day, the puppy was more like an orphan.

"The mother dog thinks the two bears are its own babies and refuses to nurse the pup," said Ha, who feeds the puppy milk and yolk to keep it healthy.

At three weeks old, the baby pandas are more than 20 cm long, "twice their birth length", said Ha. "They move around a bit but their eyes are still not open."

Lesser pandas are small, raccoon-like mammals that feed on bamboo and are native to the Himalayas. They are also known as "red pandas" because they have reddish brown fur on the body.

The average life expectancy of lesser pandas is about 13 years, and they reach adulthood at two years old.

The species is under special protection in China, though they are less known than giant pandas. They do not adapt easily to the environment. Official statistics indicate China's lesser panda population has dropped by 40 percent since the 1950s because of human expansion into their natural habitats.


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