A baby giant panda has been born in a Belgian zoo, a rare event for an endangered species that numbers fewer than 2000 worldwide.
The healthy male cub was born in the early hours of Thursday at the Paira Daiza wildlife park to six-year-old Hao Hao and her mate Xing Hui.
The pink, blind, hairless cub weighed just 171g. Hao Hao’s “probable” pregnancy was announced just two weeks ago, accompanied by caution about detecting the tiny foetus.
The cub, to be given a name later, emerged as “a little pink sausage” and gave a loud cry before being scooped up in Hao Hao’s mouth, the park’s zoological director Tim Bouts said.
Mother and baby were now doing well, he said, “but we are still in a risky period”.
The zoo, which has hosted the pair since 2014 under an arrangement with the Chinese authorities, co-operated with experts from the animals’ native China to treat the mother by artificial insemination.
World nature organisation WWF says a survey in 2014 found only 1864 giant pandas living in the wild, almost double the numbers in the late 1970s and 17 per cent up in a decade.
As part of efforts to save the species, which has been hit hard by human encroachment on the highlands where they survive almost entirely on a diet of bamboo, more than 300 pandas now live in zoos, mostly in China.
They notoriously struggle to reproduce in captivity, however though artificial breeding techniques and better knowledge of their needs has seen an increase in births in recent years.
Pairi Daiza said Belgium had become the third country in Europe to see the successful reproduction of pandas after Austria and Spain. The last successful birth in Europe was at Madrid three years ago.