Giant panda Shin Shin gives birth to cub — and hope — at Ueno Zoo


Ueno Zoo announced the birth of its first giant panda in five years on Monday.

Shin Shin, 11, gave birth to a cub at 11:52 a.m., and the mother was confirmed to be holding the cub later in the day, said Mikako Kaneko, a section chief at Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo.

Because Shin Shin has been holding onto the baby, the zoo hasn’t been able to confirm its sex or weight, but it probably weighs around 150 grams, Kaneko said.

She said both mother and cub appear to be healthy and that the cub cries out whenever Shin Shin shifts holding positions.

“I’m full of emotion. We are really happy about it,” Yutaka Fukuda, head of the zoo, said at a hastily convened news conference. “But we would like to carefully monitor them because the cub is still in a very early stage.”

The important thing for now is to monitor whether Shin Shin will properly look after the cub, Fukuda said.

Shin Shin and Ri Ri, also 11, produced a cub in 2012, but it died of pneumonia after six days. Since then, efforts to get Shin Shin pregnant had been fruitless.

“Panda is a very difficult animal to breed and there are still many things we don’t know,” Fukuda said. “I hope the cub will grow up healthy and contribute to conservation of the species.”

The zoo hasn’t decided when to put the cub on display, but it usually waits six months, Kaneko said.

The baby panda is expected to become a major draw at the venerable zoo.

Economist Katsuhiro Miyamoto, professor emeritus at Kansai University in Osaka Prefecture, said the panda’s birth would bolster Tokyo’s economy by ¥26.7 billion a year.

He estimates the joyful news will lift visitors to Ueno Zoo to 5.66 million, up 47.2 percent from 3.8 million in 2016. He arrived at the figure by adding ticket sales from the expected increase in attendance and making projections for spending in and around the zoo, including for dining, shopping and accommodations.

But this figure is only for Tokyo alone, Miyamoto said, noting that tourists from outside the metropolis could boost the effect by combining a zoo trip with visits to surrounding destinations, including Tokyo Disneyland in Chiba and Nikko in Tochigi.

“A new panda at Ueno Zoo would have an enormous impact,” Miyamoto said, adding that he visited the park with his family in 1972, when the male Kang Kang and female Lan Lan arrived from China to become the first pandas in Japan, setting off a panda boom.

“Baby pandas are incredibly cute. I hope this baby will grow healthily.”

The zoo removed Shin Shin from public viewing on May 25 after she began showing signs of pregnancy. On Saturday, the panda appeared twitchy, pacing around the room. With help from an expert from China, the staff has been monitoring Shin Shin around the clock.

Upon hearing the news, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike issued a statement welcoming the new addition to the family.

“We are very happy about the birth of a panda cub, which we have been waiting for,” Koike said.

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