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Frozen marvel: Panda cub has survival knack

THE world's first successful birth of a panda cub from artificial insemination using frozen sperm was announced yesterday, giving new hope for the commonly infertile endangered species.

You You gave birth to the cub on Thursday morning at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in southwestern China's Sichuan Province. It is You You's third cub and the 10th born at the Wolong center this year.

Just after dawn, the pink, hairless cub emerged, and its mother licked the infant, footage by state broadcaster CCTV showed.

Panda researchers said yesterday they believed it was the world's first successful live birth using frozen panda sperm.

"We did try before but it failed," said Huang Yan, a deputy research technician with the China Panda Preservation Research Center.

The technique had been tried in other countries but this was the first known instance of a live birth, he said.

The sperm from panda Lu Lu had been frozen for "a number of years," said Huang.

Artificial insemination is commonly used for breeding pandas, which have a very low sex drive.

In 2006, 34 pandas were born through artificial insemination in China and 30 survived - both record numbers for the endangered species. The technique has also been used at zoos in the United States.

However, using panda sperm that has been frozen earlier - instead of from an immediate donor - had not been successful before.

Scientists carried out the artificial insemination in March, and You You was found to be pregnant in June during an ultrasound exam, according to a notice on the Wolong center's Website.

The technique, if it can be replicated, will be a positive boost for panda conservation efforts, said Matthew Durnin, regional science director in the Asia-Pacific and North Asia for The Nature Conservancy, a United States-based conservation organization.

"In the past, they were limited to using semen from a few virile, reproductive males," he said.

"If you're using only one male at a time, you start to get lower and lower diversity."

Breeding giant pandas in captivity has proved difficult. Pandas are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low reproduction rate.

Females in the wild normally have a cub once every two or three years. The fertility of captive giant pandas was even lower, experts said.

Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in Sichuan. An additional 120 are in Chinese breeding facilities and zoos, and about 20 live in zoos outside China.


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