Keepers at Beauval zoo in France were doubly delighted on Tuesday after finding out that their pregnant panda is expecting not one but two cubs this weekend.
A final scan revealed that Huan Huan, who is on loan to the zoo from China with her male partner Yuan Zi, is expecting twins on Friday or Saturday.
The impending birth will be the first of a panda in France.
While an adult female panda can weigh up to 125 kilograms (275 pounds), a baby panda weighs barely 120 grams (4 ounces) at birth.
It was announced at the end of July that the nine-year-old bear – who arrived in Beauval in 2012 after intense, high-level negotiations between Paris and Beijing – was carrying a single cub.
But on Tuesday veterinarians assisted by two Chinese panda reproduction specialists noticed a second foetus.
‘The problems are only just starting!’, the zoo’s director Rodolphe Delord joked.
His sister Delphine Delord, the communications director, acknowledged that the situation would be ‘fragile’, with mothers often known to abandon the second cub.
‘We’re doing everything possible to ensure it goes well,’ she said.
Huan Huan’s carers will place the second cub in an incubator and rotate the tiny bears every two hours, Beauval’s head veterinarian Baptiste Mulot said.
Breeding pandas is notoriously difficult.
The female panda is only in heat once a year for about 48 hours. The gestation period for pandas is a mere 50 days.
Huan Huan (meaning ‘happy’) and Yuan Zi (‘chubby’) are the only giant pandas living in France.
The pair were brought together in February, in the hope they would mate, but it didn’t happen. In the end, the zoo performed an artificial insemination.
They are due to stay in France until 2022 before being returned to China.
Their cubs will stay in France until the age of two or three.