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Rare Panda Triplets Born At South China Wildlife Park


This is the introduction of a news report, in which part of our job is to interest you in the story that follows. In this case, we've got one word for you - pandas.


Better yet, two words - panda triplets. Weeks after birth, they are still alive. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from China.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: A video released by the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou shows mother Ju Xiao licking her newborn cubs and picking them up in her mouth following a four-hour birth process. Zhang Hemin runs China's Conservation Research Center for Giant Pandas in Sichuan province in the country's Southwest. Speaking by cell phone, he said in the world of pandas, triplets are a big deal.

ZHANG HEMIN: (Through translator) I feel for those of us who study pandas, this is a dream because we've had about 300 births in captivity and 400 cubs, but the chance for triplets is only 1 percent.

LANGFITT: Zhang said he knew all of only three other sets of triplets stretching back to the 1970s. In total, only three of those nine cubs survived. Zhang says mother pandas struggle to keep more than one baby warm after birth.

HEMIN: (Through translator) They will pick up one cub and want to pick up the other. When they pick up the second one, the first one drops to the floor. They do this repeatedly, and after few hours, mother pandas will become exhausted. In the end, they'll make up their minds to only cuddle one cub.

LANGFITT: The new triplets were initially put in incubators and cared for by hand. The video shows them with pink, wrinkly skin and a light coat of curly, white fur. The largest now weighs just under 12 ounces. Zhang says the technology and care for newborn pandas have improved a lot in the past decade, and the fact that the triplets have survived more than two weeks is a good sign.

HEMIN: (Through translator) I'm very optimistic because their survival rate ought to reach 95 percent.

LANGFITT: About 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in the mountains of Sichuan, according to China's State Forestry Administration. Another 300 or so live in captivity in zoos around the world. Frank Langfitt. NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.

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