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China experts to examine Thailand's new panda cub

CHINESE experts flew to Thailand today to examine a one-day-old panda cub whose birth came as a welcome surprise to zoo officials who tried unsuccessfully for years to breed the rare mammal.

Prasertsak Boontrakulpoonthawee, who heads the Chiang Mai Zoo's panda section, said the cub and mother were doing well. Thailand joins the United States and Japan as the only countries outside of China to breed a panda in captivity.

"They are still healthy and strong, both mom and baby. There's nothing to worry about," Prasertsak said. "Whatever we can do to care for the pandas, we have already done. We would like to hear from the experts about what else needs to be done."

Prasertsak said the Chinese experts will try to separate the cub from its mother, weigh the baby and determine its sex. The adult pandas were lent to Thailand from China in 2003.

The birth was featured on the front pages of many Thai newspapers, which carried photos of the pinkish cub so tiny that it could be held in the hands of a zoo staffer. Others pictures showed the hulking mother Lin Hui gently holding her baby.

Chiang Mai zoo official resorted to sometimes-comical strategies to get the two pandas to mate over the past six years. They held a mock wedding for the pair, separated them to spark a little romance and then put the male, Chuang Chuang, on a diet to entice Lin Hui. When that didn't work, they started showing Chuang Chuang "porn" videos of pandas mating, and finally turned to artificial insemination.

Zoo staff artificially inseminated the 7-year-old Lin Hui on Feb. 18 but did not know she was pregnant, Chiang Mai Zoo's director Thananpat Pongamorn said.

Staff had been monitoring her hormone levels in recent weeks and noticed they were rising. But the image on the ultrasound May 11 was not clear, and they couldn't make out a fetus. Panda births are difficult to predict and reports of false pregnancies are common.

"She's been anxious since yesterday. She did not want to get close to caretakers or any other people, but we didn't know what the problem was," Thananpat told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

Lin Hui started licking her backside and exhibiting pain in her stomach early in the morning and then gave birth to the cub, which appeared healthy and immediately began screeching loudly, Thananpat said.

Breeding pandas is a common practice in China where dozens are born by artificial insemination each year. But it is a rare occurrence outside of the country.

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


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