In something of a remarkable coincidence as it is Panda Awareness Week, a baby giant panda was born today at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo for the first time in 24 years.
In the words of one of the zoo’s veterinarians, “This is a really good thing.”
The baby panda was born to Shin Shin and her partner Ri Ri, who came to Tokyo from China in February of 2011. They are on lease from China, at an annual cost of about a million dollars and were presented to the public in March of 2011, shortly after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Cameras recorded the two pandas mating in late March and keepers then concluded that Shin Shin was pregnant from changes in her hormone level, a lessened appetite for about two weeks and more time spent sleeping. Last week, keepers said that Shin Shin might be pregnant, says Reuters; they had no way to determine this exactly until, around noon on Thursday, they saw her holding a small object to her chest.
The baby panda, whose sex is not yet known, is the first born in Tokyo through a natural mating, rather than artificial insemination.
The difficulties of successfully breeding rare animal species in captivity are highlighted in the New York Times. Zoos are currently seeking to bread some 160 endangered species but, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 83 percent of those species in North America are not making their breeding targets. The disappointing success rate has led to questions about whether zoos should be in the breeding business at all:
“I’d be happier about captive breeding if I thought it helped wild cheetahs,” said Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a nonprofit group that works on global conservation efforts for big cats in the wild, including cheetahs. “Free of threats, they breed like rabbits in the wild. They don’t need supercostly assisted reproduction — they need a place to roam.”
Should funds rather be directed to preserving wildlife species and habitats, where animals have no difficulties mating but, tragically, surviving, as human development encroaches on their homes and as poachers hunt them?
Hence, Panda Awareness Week, with 108 panda-suited people performing Tai Chi in Tragalfar Square. Here is a video of this event — there is not yet any of the new panda baby, who will undoubtedly soon be her or himself at the center of some real “panda-monium.”
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Photo by Ari Helminen