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While the UK waits expectantly for the possible birth of a panda cub – or two – at Edinburgh Zoo, the University of Glasgow is working on developing an artificial milk formula. Panda cubs are dependent on their mother’s first milk, or “colostrum“, which contains nutrients and antibodies which are essential for their development and will help protect them against infection.
If two cubs are born, however, the mother will reject one so that she can nurture and give milk to the other. Similarly, pandas are not always comfortable with being bred in captivity and will sometimes reject or even kill their own babies if they become stressed.
It is hoped that understanding the differences in composition between panda milk and human and dairy milk could aid the development of a formula to support baby pandas.
While researchers say they are still a long way from creating a milk substitute for panda cubs, the data being gathered will “set us in the right direction.“