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Record Panda Births This Year
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Artificial insemination has resulted in the birth of 25 baby pandas this year, of which 21 have survived, according to the Chengdu-based Giant Panda Breeding Technology Committee yesterday. This is a record number since attempts began in the 1960s.

"It's undoubtedly a boon to the critically-endangered species," said Zhang Zhihe, the committee's director.

Zoologists artificially impregnated 38 giant pandas nationwide in spring and 25 baby pandas were born in the fall, Zhang told Xinhua News Agency.

He said 16 of the surviving baby pandas were born at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, including two sets of twins.

"Despite the early deaths of four baby pandas, this year has witnessed the largest number of surviving newborn pandas in China's history of their artificial fertilization," he said. "We owe this achievement to Chinese scientists. They have acquired mature techniques and valuable experience after years of hard work."

Last year, China's 30 artificially-fertilized giant pandas produced 12 offspring but only nine survived.

China began to try artificial fertilization techniques on giant pandas in the 1960s but few successful cases were reported.

Major breakthroughs have been reported since the 1990s, with nine baby pandas born in 2000, 12 in 2001, 10 in 2002 and 15 in 2003.

At the Wolong center, inaugurated in 1983, 90 baby pandas have been born through artificial insemination, 77 of whom have survived. It has reported 100 percent newborn survival rate for five years in a row.

Giant pandas show little instinctive behavior in captivity, especially sexual desire, essential for natural mating and conception.

According to forestry authorities, less than 10 percent of male giant pandas mate naturally in captivity and less than 30 percent of females conceive naturally.

Females normally enter estrus at age four or five and have only one chance for a pregnancy each year. After 160 days they deliver only one or two cubs.

"Female pandas are extremely picky about their Mr. Right," said Zhang. "So we raise panda cubs in pairs hoping puppy love will create soul mate couples."

On the other hand, zoologists have also been helping mother pandas with artificial feeding to reduce mortality rate among newborn pandas, he said.

Pandas are among the world's most endangered wild animals and are found only in China. A forestry report released in 2004 said there were 1,590 giant pandas in the wild and another 161 in captivity worldwide.

Wild pandas mainly live in mountainous areas of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

(Xinhua News Agency November 18, 2005)

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