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Panda Baby Boom, 28 Healthy Cubs in One Year
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In 2006 a record 28 pandas have survived after being born through artificial insemination techniques, a Chinese panda expert said on Tuesday.



A total of 31 panda cubs were born via artificial insemination this year including 11 pairs of twins and one born to mother panda Lun Lun at the Atlanta Zoo of the United States, said Zhang Zhihe, director of the China Giant Panda Breeding Technical Committee.


Despite the early deaths of three cubs this is the biggest baby boom for the endangered species since China's first attempt to artificially breed giant pandas in the 1960s, he said. "We expected to get 10 cubs this year but as you can see we were too conservative," he added.


Twenty-six of all the surviving panda cubs were bred by zoologists in southwest China's Sichuan Province. Seventeen were born at the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center and nine at the Chengdu Research Base.


Five-year-old Ya Ya gave birth to two cubs at Chongqing Zoo in neighboring Chongqing Municipality in September but the mother crushed one in her sleep. The other was sent to Wolong and is healthy, said Li Desheng, an expert at the Wolong Center.


More than 30 female pandas nationwide were inseminated in spring including one at Beijing Zoo and one in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, said Zhang Zhihe. A panda cub was born at Beijing Zoo but died prematurely and no pregnancy occurred in Shaanxi, he said.


China's forestry administration said about 1,590 giant pandas were living in the wild. They’re mainly in China's Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces. But Chinese and British scientists announced in June that there could be as many as 3,000 after a survey that used a new technology to profile DNA from giant panda feces.


More than 180 pandas have been bred in captivity at zoos worldwide. Giant pandas have a very low fertility rate because they are sexually inactive. Female pandas become pregnant only once every year and deliver two cubs at most each time. The fertility of captive giant pandas is even lower because of a lack of exercise, experts say.


(Xinhua News Agency November 15, 2006)

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