Twin joy as Tokyo panda gives birth to two cubs

Mother Shin Shin sparked a rally in stocks of eateries near the zoo earlier this month when her suspected pregnancy was announced. PHOTO: AFP/TOKYO ZOOLOGICAL PARK SOCIETY

TOKYO (AFP) - A panda at Tokyo's Ueno zoo gave birth to twins on Wednesday (June 23), weeks after news of Shin Shin's pregnancy sent stocks in nearby restaurants soaring.

The two bundles of joy were born in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the zoo said in a statement, adding that it had not yet confirmed the sex of the pair.

"Officials are currently doing their best to protect and observe the mother and babies," the statement added.

Zoo director Yutaka Fukuda said the twin birth was a first for the Ueno facility.

"When I heard the news that the second baby was born, I couldn't help but whoop," he told reporters.

One of the babies, weighing in at 124 grams, was placed in an incubator, spokesman Naoya Ohashi said in a press conference later.

The mother panda "is in good health, and carefully looking after" the other baby, he added.

When pandas have twins, they usually only raise one, "so we will be making sure the mother panda will breastfeed one while we keep the other in the incubator", Mr Ohashi said.

Zookeepers will be swapping the babies so that both cubs experience natural feeding, he added.

Mother Shin Shin sparked a rally in stocks of eateries near the zoo earlier this month when her suspected pregnancy was announced, with investors anticipating a visitor boom to the area after the delivery.

Shares in one Chinese restaurant spiked nearly 30 per cent on the pregnancy and was up around 6.4 per cent in early trade on Wednesday.

Zookeepers had been on alert for a possible pregnancy after Shin Shin and partner Ri Ri mated in early March.

Remote video URL

The pair are also parents of a female panda, Xiang Xiang, that was born in June 2017 and became a massive draw for the zoo.

She was scheduled to be repatriated to China two years after her birth, but Japanese officials successfully negotiated to extend her stay.

She is now set to return to China at the end of the year.

Japanese media have been offering regular updates on the pandas at Ueno, which in non-pandemic times draw huge crowds of domestic and foreign tourists.

It is estimated that there are around 1,800 giant pandas left in the wild, living mainly in bamboo forests in the mountains of China, according to environmental group WWF.

Around 600 more live in zoos and breeding centres around the world.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies giant pandas as "vulnerable".

The black and white mammals are immensely popular around the world and China loans them out as part of a "panda diplomacy" programme to foster foreign ties.

The bears are notoriously bad at reproducing, but the last year has seen several born at facilities around the world.

In early June, a panda in Malaysia gave birth to its third cub during its stay there.

And a newborn in Washington has enthralled Americans since its birth in August 2020, with over a million people tuning in within just months to watch Xiao Qi Ji - Little Miracle - on a "Panda Cam".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.