Two for joy: China celebrates birth of giant panda twins - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 23 June

Two for joy: China celebrates birth of giant panda twins - Today’s news, tomorrow’s lesson - 23 June

Two for joy: China celebrates birth of giant panda twins

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 23 June

By Adi Bloom

It is a blatant, very public contravention of China’s one-child policy, which is nonetheless being greeted with boundless official enthusiasm. Haizi, a rare giant panda living in the southwest of China, has given birth to twins.

The first cub arrived at 4.54pm local time on Sunday, and the second followed 10 minutes later, according to staff at the Wolong National Nature Reserve, in Sichuan province. They are the first giant panda cubs born anywhere in the world this year.

Haizi’s story is a very modern one: her cubs are the result of two one-night stands with two different males. No one is sure which of the two males is the father, thus setting the stage for future panda-based recrimination and drama.

(It is also worth noting that conservation workers have been unable to weigh the first cub, or determine its sex, because its mother has refused to let anyone else hold it. The second cub is a female, weighs 79.2g, and is already looking for a good therapist.)

Breeding pandas in captivity is rarely a black-and-white issue. Female pandas experience sexual excitement only before ovulation. This occurs just once a year, in a narrow window of between 24 and 72 hours, at some point between February and May.

But the will-they, won’t-they romantic comedy of panda copulation is not just a case of female pandas playing hard to get. Male pandas’ sperm peaks in quality during March and April; in June, all sperm production ends.

The chances of a once-a-year panda romantic moment ending in pregnancy are even smaller in captivity, where pandas’ fertility cycles are complicated by the different seasons and climates around the world.

For example, in April this year, two theoretically compatible pandas were introduced at Edinburgh Zoo. While the hopeful zoological matchmakers watched for signs of ursine chemistry, the pandas themselves decided that they did not have that much in common, and should probably just call it a night. “Close, but no cigar,” was the zoo’s official statement.

There are an estimated 1,600 giant pandas in the wild, mostly in the mountain ranges of Sichuan. Around 300 live in captivity. Most zoos have artificial insemination programmes to ensure that the species does not die out altogether.

“Pandas have existed on earth for between 4 million and 8 million years,” said Iain Valentine, director of the giant panda project at Edinburgh Zoo. “Their problems only started when we arrived and began to make our presence felt. We have a moral duty to conserve them.”


  • What does 'conservation' mean?
  • Do you think that we should work to conserve endangered species? Why/why not?
  • How can zoos and wildlife parks play a role in conservation?
  • Iain Valentine says that pandas only became threatened once humans "arrived and began to make our presence felt." What does he mean by this?

Related resources

All about panda bears

  • For Early Years and KS1, this presentation introduces some simple facts about pandas.

Exploring conservation

  • Ideal as a group activity, pupils design a conservation plan to help save a species from extinction.

Save the panda

  • Learn about pandas, their habitats, why they’re endangered and how we can help, with this resource from WWF.

The giant panda debate

  • Should we save the pandas? Spark classroom discussion with these two viewpoints of whether it is our place to save endangered animals.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

Acrid air from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, has engulfed the city-state of Singapore. The problem has also triggered a row between the two countries over who is responsible.

An ancient city hidden for centuries beneath dense forest on the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia, has been rediscovered using airborne laser technology.

"The further away the spaceship drifts, the more you start to miss the sounds of nature, of rainfall," Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova said of her historic journey into space 50 years ago this week.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is rumoured to be planning a dip in a nearby lake, US president Barack Obama is charming local teenaged crowds and UK prime minister David Cameron, the host, is simply trying to keep world leaders from scrapping.

In the news archive index