— A pair of giant pandas that China gave to Taiwan nearly five years ago saw its first cub born Saturday. The tiny animal will help keep an endangered species alive while further linking Taiwan to China despite decades of old hostilities.
A cub was born Saturday night to two pandas donated to Taiwan by China in 2008. After long being encouraged by their host the Taipei Zoo
to procreate, the female gave birth to a cub that measures 16 centimeters long and weighs 183 grams.
Chang Chih-hua, the zoo's secretary, says the birth will contribute to a stronger animal population.
He says that for the overall effort to breed pandas, the zoo’s birth is not just about adding one more specimen. He adds that in terms of research and education, the zoo will be able to provide a lot of work toward educating society about giant pandas.
The rare birth of a cub anywhere raises hopes for a stronger world panda population. Pandas can only be found in the wild in western China, where their long-term viability has long been challenged by their naturally slow reproductive cycle as well as threats from the human population.
About 1,600 bears are alive, according to the U.S.-based advocacy group Pandas International.
The two adult pandas reached Taiwan as the island’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, began to lay aside 60 years of political problems to establish mutual trust with China.
China donated them to make a friendly impression on Taiwan’s public, political analysts said at the time. Their names, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, said together mean unite in Mandarin Chinese. The female cub has not been named.
Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan and hopes eventually that the two sides can reunify, but many people on the democratic island prefer more distance from the Communist leadership. The two sides have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.
However, Ma’s government has signed a series of trade and investment pacts with China, binding Taiwan closer to the world’s second largest economy to help local businesses. In June two sides signed their latest deal, which opens to investment 144 service sectors, such as finance and transportation.
China has also donated or lent pandas to Australia, Japan and the United States, among other locations. Beijing often sends them as goodwill gestures.
The Taipei Zoo plans to keep the newborn rather than returning it to China but will share information with enthusiastic Chinese pandas experts and eventually try to cross-breed the cub with male counterparts outside Taiwan.