A giant panda has given birth to a cub at Everland amusement park in South Korea. The newborn is the first-ever baby panda to be born in the country.
The female cub’s mother, seven-year-old Ai Bao, conceived in March after mating with nine-year-old Le Bao at the theme park. She gave birth on Monday night, park operator Samsung Group said in a statement.
The pair of pandas – whose names translate as “Lovely Treasure and “Happy Treasure” – arrived in South Korea from China’s Sichuan province on a 15-year loan in 2016, as agreed by the two countries during a 2014 summit in Seoul attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping .
“Ai Bao and her newborn are in good condition. The baby panda was born with a weight of 197 grams and a height of 16.5 centimetres,” the park said.
Everland has made a special shelter for the cub, which will not be unveiled to the public until its immune system has fully developed in a few months’ time, the park said, while promising regular picture and video updates.
Giant pandas are one of the world’s most endangered species. Female pandas are able to conceive only once a year for one to three days in March to April, which makes reproduction difficult.
Detecting a panda pregnancy is also a challenge, given that cubs are only a tiny fraction of their mother’s weight at birth and do most of their growing outside the womb.
Everland said it had been monitoring Ai Bao “24 hours every day” after she “started behaving abnormally, eating less and becoming edgy”.
Ai Bao and Le Bao are the only panda couple currently in South Korea and have attracted more than 9.5 million visitors to Everland to see them since their arrival.
Beijing’s decision to loan them out was considered a symbol of goodwill aimed at fostering bilateral relations, according to Yonhap news agency.
China has been sending its black-and-white ambassadors abroad since the 1950s as part of what is known as “panda diplomacy ”. The loan agreements specify that panda cubs born abroad must be returned for scientific research and reproduction purposes.
Everland said it expected the cub born to Ai Bao and Le Bao to be returned to China in three or four years’ time.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.