Thirty-one giant pandas have been born in captivity in China this year, 25 of which have survived, the State Forestry Administration said Thursday.
Last year, there were 33 births and 30 survived.
Cao Qingrao, a spokesman for the administration, said that of this year's 25 living bears, 16 are currently at the China Giant Panda Research Center in Wolong, a nature reserve in Sichuan Province, and the rest live at a research and breeding base in Chengdu, the provincial capital.
Zhang Zhihe, head of the China Giant Panda Breeding Technology Commission, said: "Considering the difficulties in breeding giant pandas, a survival rate of 80 percent or so is quite high."
He said over the 40-year history of artificial breeding, the survival rate of newborn cubs is less than 60 percent. Due to better technology, the figure has hit 90 percent, but it is unstable, Zhang said.
He said three newborn cubs died in Wolong this year.
Cao Qingrao said there are now 239 giant pandas in captivity in China, including 128 in Wolong and 67 in Chengdu. About 1,590 bears are thought to be living in the wild.
Under Sino-foreign cooperation schemes, 27 pandas live outside the country, including 12 in the United States, eight in Japan, two in Thailand, three in Austria and two in Spain. Of the total, 18 were provided by China, and nine were bred overseas - four in the US, four in Japan and one in Austria.
China sent 24 giant pandas to nine countries as gifts between 1957 and 1982 and five of their offspring are still alive.
The government stopped the program in 1985 and in 1994, launched long-term cooperation on breeding with Japan, the US and Spain. Since then, 25 bears have been sent overseas.
Under the agreement, all cubs born overseas to pandas on loan remain China's property and must be returned when they are sexually mature.
A male panda born in the US four years ago, which was named Mei Sheng, returned to his hometown in southwest China on Wednesday.
Mei Sheng, which means "Born in the USA" or "Beautiful Life" in Chinese, was born on August 19, 2003, at the San Diego Zoo in California. His parents were Bai Yun and Gao Gao, a couple lent to the zoo by China under a conservation and research program.
(Xinhua News Agency November 10, 2007)