It’s a… Panda!

News & Views - July 6th, 2012
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[edit: July 11 – sadly the still unnamed panda cub has died, officials at Ueno zoo announced today]

Ueno Zoo has witnessed its first panda birth since 1988.

Conceived naturally – a first – the cub is a notable success story for zookeepers and, of course, parents Shin Shin and Ri Ri. But we don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl yet…

Shin Shin, the baby’s mother, is on a ten-year loan (Japan pays a reported $1m a year for the privilege) to the zoo from China, to which the cub will ‘return’ in two years time. The Chinese authorities have so-called ‘naming rights’ of the animal so we won’t find out her name for a few days.

That announcement could stir controvercy – local media reported Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara’s jokes last week that she be called ‘Sen Sen’ or ‘Kaku Kaku’, referencing what Japan knows as the Senkaku Islands, territories which both China and Japan claim.

Hopefully the young cub can grow up in peace – but somehow, that seems unlikely. Visitors in their thousands queued for hours – their numbers even forcing the zoo to open late – when the adult pandas were first displayed to the public on April 1st last year. Having been delayed by the earthquake of March 2011, the event was seen as something that would bring hope to many people.

Grainy pictures of the cub have emerged but, perhaps anticipating the split which will occur in a couple of years, Shin Shin is keeping things close to her chest.