The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has been part of an international effort to breed highly endangered giant pandas in captivity ever since Richard Nixon visited China in 1972. But in 43 years, they’ve had only two solid successes–cubs Tai Shan and Bao Bao. They hope the new twins born this weekend will make it four.

The National Zoo has plenty of experience getting other species to get it on and make babies: Over the past two years they’ve had baby lions, crocodiles, Andean Bears, gazelles, giraffes, even small-and-adorable red pandas. Why are the giant pandas such notoriously picky breeders?

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In an article at Motherboard, Kaleigh Rogers outlines the major problems conservationists face when breeding giant pandas, including limited opportunity (females only ovulate once a year), clumsy mates, and biological quirks that make it hard to tell whether a panda is even pregnant. It explains exactly why the zoo is so excited about Mei Xiang’s new twin cubs.

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UPDATE: August 26, 2015: The National Zoo just announced that the smaller of the panda twins has died. Although it’s sad, this isn’t unusual: Bao Bao is also the surviving cub from a pair of twins.

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[Motherboard]

Image: Ketzirah Lesser and Art Drauglis via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0


Contact the author at diane@io9.com.

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