Kwan Weng Kin – Straits Times
Tokyo. The head of Ueno Zoo, where a baby giant panda was born last Thursday, broke down at a hastily called press conference yesterday to announce its death.
“We are sad every time an animal dies,” said zoo director Toshimitsu Doi.
“But this time, our staff worked all night. So it is very regrettable,” he added, wiping away tears.
The male cub was well at 6.45 a.m. on Wednesday. But just 45 minutes later, it was found lying motionless on its back on its mother’s belly and without a heartbeat.
Efforts to revive the baby panda failed.
“When the baby was being breast-fed, it probably inhaled some milk, causing pneumonia,” said Doi, before he choked up. The press conference was carried live on some networks.
Visitors to the zoo yesterday were downcast at news of the cub’s death. It weighed 144 g.
“It is really sad. I had wanted to come again when the cub was due to be put on display in a few months’ time,” the Sankei Shimbun daily quoted 71-year-old housewife Akiko Miura as saying.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda described the death as “very disappointing.”
“We were all looking forward” to the cub’s development, he told reporters.
The loss was also felt in China, where its foreign ministry issued a statement lamenting the cub’s death.
Last week, Beijing expressed hope that the cub’s birth would help improve “people-to-people sentiment and overall relations between China and Japan.”
The baby panda was the first to be born at Ueno Zoo in 24 years through natural breeding. Its parents, Shin Shin and Ri Ri, were leased from China last year.
Giant pandas have a low birth rate, and artificial insemination is common in captive breeding programs.
Fewer than half of newborn pandas survive more than a week, Yutaka Fukuda, the zoo’s chief panda keeper, told reporters.
The rate is even worse for pandas born to first-time mothers, he said. The baby was Shin Shin’s first.
Its birth on July 5 produced much excitement near the zoo, with bakeries rushing out bread and cakes decorated with panda motifs to celebrate the birth.
It was only this Tuesday that the mother panda resumed breast-feeding the cub after having abandoned it earlier out of fatigue.
The baby panda was kept in an incubator for three days before being sent back to Shin Shin on Tuesday.
In 1986, a panda cub born at Ueno Zoo was accidentally crushed to death by its mother just 43 hours after its birth.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times