A giant panda who gained notoriety when she escaped captivity and remained at large for four and a half years gave birth to a female cub in southwest China on Saturday, only eight months after she was recaptured.
The cub, conceived through artificial insemination, was born at 8:50 a.m. at the China Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Sichuan Province and weighed in at 160 grams, said the center's head Zhang Hemin.
"The birth, the first among captive giant pandas this year, has turned the celebrity giant panda, known for her unruliness, into a heroine again," said Zhang Hemin, the head of the center.
The 16-year-old mother named Bai Xue - Snow White - and her daughter are in good condition.
"It was unexpected good news for us," the expert said. "We didn't expect her to be able to become pregnant and give birth when we inseminated her in April this year, as she was too old and still had not restored her strength after returning to the center."
Experts at the center were excited after the birth of the new cub, Zhang said.
Bai Xue ran away from the Wolong research center in 2001 and was not found until November 2005 when she entered the residential area of the center's workers.
"She has gained 30 kg since she returned to the center and is now 90 kg," said Zhang.
A wild giant panda, Bai Xue was found injured in the Qinling Mountains of northwestern Shaanxi Province in 1993.
She made the headlines when she escaped from an exhibition in a forest park in Suzhou, eastern Jiangsu Province in August 1994. More than 1,000 people were mobilized to search for the fugitive and she was not brought under control for 80 days.
Bai Xue was sent to Wolong in 1995 for breeding research. The giant panda mothered five cubs in three births through artificial insemination before she fled the center, Zhang said.
"Bai Xue has made a great contribution to the research of giant panda breeding and genetic exchanges," the expert said.
The father of Bai Xue's new cub is a giant panda named Shi Shi in a breeding base in Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan.
Giant pandas have a very low fertility rate as they only mate for three to four days between March and May every year and can only become pregnant once a year.
Studies from the State Forestry Administration show there are over 180 giant pandas living in captivity.
Experts had previously estimated there were 1,590 giant pandas living in the wild in China, but Chinese and British scientists announced in June that there could be as many as 3,000 there after a survey using a new method to profile DNA from giant panda faeces.
(Xinhua News Agency July 24, 2006)