HUNDREDS of panda lovers turned out to a Tokyo zoo on Tuesday to attend the first public viewing of Japan’s six-month-old panda cub Xiang Xiang.
The healthy female cub was born at Ueno Zoological Gardens in June, five years after her mother Shin Shin lost another cub within days of its birth. It has been nearly three decades since a baby panda at the capital’s zoo has survived this long.
The panda toddler’s name, written with the Chinese character for fragrant, was chosen from more than 322,000 suggestions submitted by the public.
“We started a panda breeding program in 2010 but it’s not easy to make these animals produce a cub,” said Yutaka Fukuda, head of the zoo as quoted by the Japan Times. “We’re happy and proud of our success.”
Ahead of the public debut on Tuesday, media along with esteemed guests were given a preview viewing on Monday. The Chinese ambassador to Japan’s wife and the governor of Tokyo were in attendance.
“Wild giant pandas are at risk of extinction and there are only 1,800 remaining worldwide, which makes this one very precious,” said Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, as quoted by the Times.
Sino-Japanese ties are often strained by the bitter legacy of World War Two and regional rivalry, but panda diplomacy sometimes offers a touch of friendship to the relationship.
“This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between China and Japan. I think the birth of Shan Shan – pronounced Xiang Xiang in Chinese – is truly auspicious,” Wang said.
The panda toddler, small enough at birth to fit in the palm of a hand, now has typical panda markings and weighs around 12 kilograms. On Monday, media saw her munching bamboo, strolling and climbing – including perching precariously on a tree stump.
Shin Shin and her partner, Ri Ri, arrived from China in February 2011 and went on view soon after the following month’s devastating earthquake, offering a scrap of good news for an anguished nation.
Nearly 250,000 of the public have applied to see Xiang Xiang, reported Japan Today. The zoo will limit the maximum number of visitors to 2,000 per day until the end of January so as to reduce stress on the animals.
A male cub born in 2012 was the first in 24 years at the Ueno Zoo, but six days after its birth, it was found lying motionless on its mother’s belly and efforts to revive it failed.
Additional reporting from Reuters.