Xiang Xiang the ‘auspicious’ cuddly panda cub makes public debut at Tokyo zoo

The wife of China’s ambassador to Japan and the governor of Tokyo turned out on Monday to help mark this week’s public debut of Japan’s popular panda cub

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 11:03pm

A baby panda born six months ago made its debut before the cameras in Japan Monday, a day before a doting public gets an eagerly-awaited glimpse of the cuddly animal.

The panda named Xiang Xiang – derived from the Chinese character for “fragrance” – has sparked a media frenzy since its birth on June 12 at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo.

Broadcasters aired live footage of the cub nimbly climbing a tree and chomping on bamboo in a special cage.

Along with local schoolchildren, selected media and special guests were permitted to watch and film the panda through a glass shield.

Wang Wan, the wife of Chinese ambassador Cheng Yonghua, joined Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at the event.

Sino-Japanese ties are often strained by the bitter legacy of the second world war and regional rivalry, but panda diplomacy sometimes offers a touch of friendship to the relationship.

“This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of ties between China and Japan. I think the birth of Shan Shan – pronounced Xiang Xiang in Chinese – is truly auspicious,” Wang said.

The public will get their first chance to see Xiang Xiang on Tuesday, the zoo’s first baby panda exhibition since 1988.

“Xiang Xiang has been thriving with the loving nurturing by mum Shin Shin,” Koike said at the ceremony, describing the baby as “a new treasure of Tokyo”.

The panda cub weighs 12.3 kilos and is the size of a medium-sized dog, zoo officials said, adding that it is in good health.

To reduce stress on the panda and avoid crowds, the zoo will limit the maximum number of visitors to 2,000 a day for a one- to two-minute slot until the end of January.

The zoo received nearly 250,000 applications for a lottery to see Xiang Xiang.

For avid panda fans who miss out, the zoo will offer a live stream of Xiang Xiang’s daily life from Tuesday for a year.

Mother Shin Shin, which mated with Ri Ri in February, had previously given birth in 2012 – the zoo’s first panda delivery in 24 years – only for the cub to die from pneumonia six days later.

Zookeepers have since given the adult pandas some private space in a bid to create an environment for the bashful creatures to mate successfully – a notoriously difficult process.

Until recently considered an endangered species, it is estimated that around 2,000 giant pandas remain in the wild, in three provinces in central China.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters