via Smithsonian’s National Zoo
From the National Zoo:
“Experienced Mom Mei Xiang Nurtures Bei Bei
This panda update was written by keeper Nicole MacCorkle.
Many people have been asking if Mei Xiang is being gentle enough when she moves Bei Bei in and out of the den. Don’t worry, she is!
It is difficult to comprehend how a mother panda’s jaws, which are able to crush a piece of bamboo with ease, can also be extremely gentle when picking up a cub, but they really are. Mei Xiang is a skilled panda mother, and like other panda mothers, she picks up Bei Bei in her mouth, but doesn’t use her teeth.
It certainly appears to be a struggle at times, especially as Bei Bei gets bigger and less cooperative. While it looks less than graceful (anyone who has tried to carry a sleeping or uncooperative toddler can probably relate), the process is gentler than it looks. Although he is often being pulled across the floor, the floor is smooth and won’t hurt him. Also, remember that panda cubs are sturdy little creatures, and Bei Bei even more so than his older siblings before him!
If you’re wondering if Mei Xiang has brought Bei Bei outside the den earlier than she did with Bao Bao or Tai Shan, you’re right! Mei Xiang is more experienced with each cub, and like any experienced mother, she tends to push each milestone a bit earlier.
Tai Shan was first out of the den at about three and a half months of age. Bao Bao was moved from the den for the first time at about two-and-a-half months. Bei Bei was first brought out of the den when he was about a month-and-a-half old.
It is always tricky to make an assumption about why an animal chooses to do something, like take her cub on a short trip outside of the den. In this case, though, our best guess is that Mei moves the cubs out of the den to introduce them to the world outside of the place they were born. And she has moved each cub when she feels that they are ready for that developmental milestone.
Every giant panda is an individual, and other females may choose to do things at a different pace from Mei. However, she has proven her competence as a mother over and over again, so we let her lead us in the best way to manage her cubs.”