A giant panda has given birth to twin cubs at the ZooParc de Beauval in the Centre-Val de Loire region in central France – in what officials say is an “exceptional” event.
Huan Huan’s cubs were born in the early hours of Monday, weighing just 149g and 129g respectively.
“They are very lively, pink and plump,” the zoo said in a statement.
Panda reproduction – both in captivity and in the wild – is notoriously difficult, experts say, as the bears, which are native to China, rarely get in the mood.
But Huan Huan – who is on loan from China – has form in this regard: she is already mum to Yuan Meng, the first panda to have been born in France.
All the same, it was still hugely exciting for zoo staff when Huan Huan and her partner Yuan Zi managed to make “contact” eight times in a weekend last March, according to the BBC.
Veterinarians also carried out an artificial insemination, just to be sure.
Huan Huan’s labour was carefully monitored with two veterinarians coming over from China especially, the ZooParc de Beauval said.
Last month, China said giant pandas are no longer seen as endangered but are still vulnerable. The classification was downgraded as their number in the wild has reached 1,800.
But that hasn’t reduced the excitement at the zoo over the new arrivals.
“These births are always exceptional,” said Delphine Delord, the zoo’s associate director.
China managed to save its iconic animal through long-term conservation efforts, including the expansion of habitats according to international conservationists.
China considers pandas a national treasure, but has also loaned them to other countries as part of its diplomatic strategy, using them to forge political friendships around the globe since the 1950s.
Experts say the increase in numbers is largely due to Chinese efforts to recreate and repopulate bamboo forests. Bamboo makes up around 99% of their diet, without which they are likely to starve.
Zoos such as the ZooParc de Beauval have also attempted to increase numbers via captive breeding.