Baby panda Xiang Xiang makes press debut at Japan zoo

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Six-month-old Giant Panda cub Xiang Xiang eats bamboo at a room of special facility during a press preview at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo on Dec 18. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - A baby panda born six months ago made its debut before the cameras in Japan Monday (Dec 18), a day before a doting public gets an eagerly-awaited glimpse of the cuddly animal.

The panda named Xiang Xiang - derived from the Chinese character for "fragrance" - has sparked a media frenzy since its birth on June 12 at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo.

Broadcasters aired live footage of the cub nimbly climbing a tree and chomping on bamboo in a special cage.

Along with local schoolchildren, selected media were permitted to watch and film the panda through a glass shield.

The public will get their first chance to see Xiang Xiang on Tuesday, the zoo's first baby panda exhibition since 1988.

"Xiang Xiang has been thriving with the loving nurturing by mum Shin Shin," Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said at a ceremony, describing the baby as "a new treasure of Tokyo".

The panda cub weighs 12.3kg and is the size of a medium-sized dog, zoo officials said, adding that it is in good health.

In order to reduce stress on the panda and avoid crowds, the zoo will limit the maximum number of visitors to 2,000 a day for a one- to two-minute slot until the end of January.

The zoo received nearly 250,000 applications for a lottery to see Xiang Xiang.

For avid panda fans who miss out, the zoo will offer a live stream of Xiang Xiang's daily life from Tuesday for a year.

Mum Shin Shin, which mated with Ri Ri in February, had previously given birth in 2012 - the zoo's first panda delivery in 24 years - only for the cub to die from pneumonia six days later.

Zookeepers have since given the adult pandas some private space in a bid to create an environment for the bashful creatures to mate successfully - a notoriously difficult process.

Until recently considered an endangered species, it is estimated that around 2,000 giant pandas remain in the wild, in three provinces in central China.

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