August 8, 2006

Giant panda gives birth to giant cub

BEIJING (Reuters) - A giant panda has broken two records in
China by giving birth to the heaviest cub born in captivity
after the longest period in labor, an exhausting 34 hours,
Xinhua news agency said.

Six-year-old Zhang Ka delivered the baby, the second born
in captivity in the world this year, on Monday at the Wolong
Giant Panda Research Center in the mountainous southwest,
Xinhua said in a report late on Monday.

The cub weighed just 218 grams (half a pound), but still
became the heaviest panda ever born in captivity, where most
cubs are born weighing between 83 and 190 grams, Xinhua said.

"It is very rare for them to be even near 200 grams," it

But the size and the fact that it was Zhang Ka's first
child meant a "painstaking and eventful" birth for the mother,
who was born in the wild.

"The whole process lasted about 34 hours and was the
longest in the history of panda reproduction," Xinhua quoted
Zhang Hemin, head of the Wolong center, as saying.

The giant panda is one of the world's most exotic and
endangered species and is found only in China, where it is a
national treasure.

An estimated 1,600 wild pandas live in nature reserves in
Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.

It is extremely hard to breed giant pandas in captivity.
Females only ovulate once a year, with a slim 24- to 48-hour
window for breeding when artificial reproduction methods are
usually adopted. Infant mortality is also high.

Pandas eat bamboo shoots and spend a lot of time sleeping.
They usually wean their young at around 18 months, and healthy
pandas live into their late 20s or early 30s.