TOKYO – It was an auspicious sign, as the giant panda leaned over and urinated upside down against a tree.
Almost four years had passed since Ri Ri, a 15-year-old man, had last mated with his partner, Shin Shin, also 15, in Japan’s oldest zoo. But last November, Ri Ri started her courtship ritual (acrobatics leave a wider scent) and Shin Shin was approaching the heat, giving hope that the famous wayward animals were finally in the mood.
Earlier this month, Ueno Zoo in Tokyo announced that there were signs Shin Shin was pregnant. Stock prices for restaurants with outlets around the zoo has skyrocketed. And then on Wednesday came the happy news: Shin Shin had given birth not to one baby, but to two.
The twins, whose sex has not yet been determined, were born just after midnight to an hour and a half apart, the zoo said. One weighed 124 grams, or nearly four and a half ounces, and the weight of the other was still unknown. They joined a sister, Xiang Xiang, born in 2017.
Zoo director Yutaka Fukuda called the twin births a happy surprise.
“When the first was born, I was relieved,” Fukuda said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “When I received a report on the second, I was shocked and extremely happy. “
Zoo spokesperson Naoya Ohashi said that when pandas have twins they usually only raise one of them, so zookeepers make sure the mother is breastfeeding them. one while the other remains in an incubator. They plan to swap the cubs every now and then so they both get natural nutrition.
Previously, five pandas – three males and two females – were born at Ueno Zoo, which opened in 1882 on land once owned by the Imperial family and, along with its surrounding park, is one of the most popular tourist destinations. most popular in Tokyo. It is the first time that twins have been born at the zoo.
In the 1980s, two pandas named Fei Fei and Huan Huan had three cubs through artificial insemination, although one of the babies died after just two days.
Shin Shin and Ri Ri arrived 10 years ago, and Shin Shin gave birth by natural conception for the first time in 2012. The little one died of pneumonia a few days later. Xiang Xiang, their daughter, is now 4 years old.
Xiang Xiang was to be repatriated to China after his 2 years, but the Japanese authorities have negotiated an extended stay. She was then due to be fired on May 31, but this was delayed until December 31 due to the pandemic.
Shin Shin and Ri Ri were due to return to China in February. But Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who feared the zoo would end up without pandas and deprived of a major draw for visitors, has negotiated to extend their stay by five years. Ueno Zoo reopened earlier this month after a five-month closure linked to the pandemic.
The Chinese practice of giving pandas to other countries is said to date back over 1,000 years. Chinese state media reported that historical documents show that Chinese Empress Wu Zetian sent two pandas in 685 to Emperor Tenmu of Japan.
China first sent pandas to Ueno Zoo in 1972, as part of the country’s “panda diplomacy”, which gained momentum in the 1950s.
Today, China only offers pandas to other countries in the form of 10-year loans, with all descendants considered Chinese property. There are around 1,800 giant pandas in the wild in China, as well as around 500 in captivity around the world.