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Dog Nurses, Saves Panda Cubs in China

Two red panda cubs abandoned by their mother at birth are thriving at a northern China zoo thanks to milk and loving care from an unlikely surrogate mother — a dog, state media reported on Thursday.

The cubs, born June 25, were abandoned immediately by their mother after giving birth in front of a crowd of visitors at the Taiyuan Zoo in northern China's Shanxi province, according to Ha Guojiang, a zoo employee quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency.

"No one knew she was pregnant. Her plump body and bushy hair disguised her protruding belly until the babies were born," said Ha. "We hurriedly went about to find a wet nurse for them."

Telephone calls to the Taiyuan zoo rang unanswered on Thursday.

The dog wet nurse, belonging to a farmer from a nearby suburb, was selected from two other candidates that had recently given birth. The dog is now raising the two panda cubs like its own pups, sometimes even refusing to feed its own pup, said Ha, cited by Xinhua.

At 3-weeks-old, the baby cubs have yet to open their eyes and have doubled in length to 20 centimeters (8 inches), Xinhua reported.

Unlike the more well-known, bear-like giant pandas, red pandas resemble raccoons with long bushy tails. There are believed to be fewer than 2,500 adult red pandas in the world.