A record 16 giant pandas have been born in captivity this year, the head of China’s panda breeding programme says.

They include twins born in Japan and a cub born in California – to mothers lent to zoos by China.

Threatened with extinction in the wild, captive breeding programmes, including artificial insemination, are seen as vital to save giant pandas.

Baby Pandas

Only about 1,000 of the animals remain in the wild, feeding on bamboo in the Sichuan mountains of south-west China.

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A total of 29 pandas
were inseminated naturally or
artificially in the spring and
they gave birth to 19 pandas in the autumn,
of which two were stillborn and one
failed to survive, said Zhang Zhihe,
head of China’s Giant Panda Breeding Technology Committee.

He said the survival rate of 84% was good news for the protection of pandas.

About 140 giant pandas live in zoos and research centres worldwide.

Cute Panda

Twelve cubs born in captivity survived in 2001 and 10 in 2002, the Chinese official news agency Xinhua reported.

Female pandas are only able to become pregnant once a year – for only about two days – and give birth to just one or two cubs at a time.

More than 60% of male pandas in captivity show no sexual desire at all, while just a 10th of them will mate naturally, according to Xinhua.