Japan’s First Panda Born In 24 Years Dies One Week After Birth
July 12, 2012

Japan’s First Panda Born In 24 Years Dies One Week After Birth

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Less than a week after Tokyo´s Ueno Zoo recorded its first panda birth in 24 years, an event that was greeted with widespread excitement, researchers´ high spirits were crushed when they failed to resuscitate the baby male panda after one zoo keeper found the creature lying motionless on his mother´s chest.

The baby panda, who had yet been named, died on Wednesday after resuscitation efforts failed. The cub had no heartbeat and was quickly moved to an incubator, said zoo officials, who were unable to revive the little cub and pronounced him dead an hour later.

The officials determined the panda died from pneumonia after the mother´s milk accidentally entered the cub´s airway, said a teary-eyed Toshimitsu Doi, the head of Ueno Zoo. He said they heard the baby panda´s cries at 6:45 a.m. (local time) on Wednesday and then discovered his lifeless body less than an hour later. At 8:30 a.m., when all efforts failed to revive the panda, the call was made.

The team had removed the baby panda shortly after birth and placed him in an incubator for three days, monitoring his condition. He was returned to his mother on Tuesday and zookeepers felt everything was okay.

“They peacefully spent the night and the baby was doing fine just this morning,” said Yutaka Fukuda, the zoo´s chief panda caretaker, overcome by tears. “It happened so suddenly, and it's such a pity.”

The panda was the first born at the zoo since 1988 and was conceived naturally, a very rare occurrence for captive pandas. The birth rate is very low for giant pandas and most pandas in captive breeding programs are artificially inseminated.

The panda´s mom, Shin Shin, was brought to the Ueno Zoo in February 2011 from China, just before the country´s powerful earthquake and devastating tsunami that hit the region less than a month later. China also sent a mate for Shin Shin -- a male named Ri Ri. The panda´s were on loan from China for a fee of $1 million per year.

Hopes for a baby began after the two pandas at the zoo were recorded on camera mating earlier this year. The mother gave birth on July 5, and the media closely followed the events as they unfolded. Television footage showed the tiny, white-haired cub being cradled on its mother´s chest and then again when it was being incubated.

The zoo gained lots of attention and visitors flocked to see the baby cub. Zoo officials, celebrating the success of the facility´s breeding program, held daily press conferences since the birth, continuing up until the baby´s death Wednesday morning. The zoo said it would set up a space for visitors to lay flowers and pay their respects, and to pray for the baby panda.

Fukuda noted that less than half of newborn pandas survive more than a week, citing Chinese panda experts. He added that that rate is even worse for pandas born to first-time moms.

The birth of the baby panda was seen as a way for China and Japan to promote better relations with each other.

Shortly before the birth, Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, sparked outrage in China by suggesting the cub be named “Sen Sen” or “Kaku Kaku” -- both names referring to Senkaku, the Japanese name of disputed islands lying 120 miles east of Taiwan that are a prominent source of tension between the two countries.

Tensions between the two countries only increased after another panda, also on loan to Japan, died in 2010 while under anesthesia during a semen-extracting procedure.