Among eutherians, ursids have a significant disparity between maternal weight and neonatal weight (Leitch et al., 1959). The giant panda also produces a smaller litter mass relative to maternal body mass than, for example, the American black bear (Oftedal & Gittleman, 1989; Ramsay & Dunbrack, 1996; Zhu et al., 2001). The giant panda neonate is particularly altricial (i.e. highly dependent on parental care), requiring 24-hour care during the first weeks of life. This chapter deals with the issues and intricacies associated with the newborn giant panda cub, including hand-rearing and medical management.
NEONATAL CARE AND HAND-REARING: METHODS, RESULTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Indications for hand-rearing
Although maternal care is always preferred for the giant panda cub, there are situations when human care-giving is mandatory. The most obvious is maternal abandonment, which usually becomes apparent within the first five to ten minutes of birth. A female that abandons her cub will typically leave it on the ground and move away, showing little or no interest. Intervention is also required when the dam holds the cub improperly (malpositioning). Such a cub can neither nurse nor rest, often moves about excessively (in an attempt to achieve proper positioning on its own) and then can fall to the ground. A third complication is the common production of two or more cubs (mean litter size is 1.7; range 1–3) (Schaller et al., 1985).