China says record number of giant pandas born in captivity this year

A record 28 pandas have survived so far this year after being born using artificial insemination techniques, state media reported Tuesday.

A total of 31 panda cubs were born, including 11 pairs of twins and one born to Lun Lun at the Atlanta Zoo of the United States, Zhang Zhihe, director of the China Giant Panda Breeding Technical Committee, was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.

Despite the three deaths, it is the biggest baby boom for the endangered species since China's first began artificially breeding giant pandas in the 1960s, Zhang said.

"We expected to get 10 cubs this year, but, as you can see, we were too conservative," he said.

The previous record was the 21 baby pandas born in China's zoos and breeding centers in 2005.

Twenty-six of the panda cubs were bred by zoologists in southwest China's Sichuan Province, after more than 30 female pandas nationwide were inseminated in the spring.

China's forestry administration said about 1,590 giant pandas are living in the wild, mainly in China's Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces.

But Xinhua said that Chinese and British scientists had announced in June that there could be as many as 3,000 after a survey that used a new technology to profile DNA from giant panda feces.

More than 180 pandas have been bred in captivity at zoos worldwide.

Giant pandas have a very low fertility rate because they are sexually inactive. Female pandas become pregnant only once a year and deliver two cubs at most each time, reports AP.

The fertility of captive giant pandas is even lower because they do not move much, experts said.

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