A giant panda on loan to France from China has given birth to twin female cubs, a French zoo announced, declaring “they are very lively, pink and plump”.
The Beauval Zoo in central France said in a statement on Monday that the twins were born shortly after 1am local time (23:00 GMT). They weigh 149 and 129 grams (5.3 and 4.6 ounces).
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Their mother Huan Huan and father Yuan Zi are at Beauval on a 10-year loan from China aimed at highlighting good ties with France.
The twins are their second and third cubs after the first panda ever born in France, Yuan Meng, in 2017.
“Huan Huan is taking care of them very well. She took them in her mouth to lick them and clean them. We can hear little cries,” the zoo’s statement said.
The zoo said the sex of the cubs was determined by the Chinese experts taking care of them but would need to be definitively confirmed since external genitalia does not appear until they are several months old.
The birth comes after the zoo, which is 225km (140 miles) south of Paris, announced with great joy in March that Huan Huan and Yuan Zi had “mated eight times”.
Veterinarians then carried out artificial insemination “to have as much chance as possible” to see a pregnancy.
Giant pandas have difficulty breeding and their pregnancies are notoriously difficult to follow.
“We just lived a moment of rare intensity. These births are always very exceptional but they also bring some surprises,” said Delphine Delord, director of the Beauval Zoo.
The cubs will not be named before 100 days. They will spend a few years in France before being sent to China, the zoo said.
Other nations in Europe also have giant pandas, including Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Finland and the United Kingdom.
There are about 1,800 pandas living in the wild in China and about 500 in captivity worldwide.
China for decades gifted friendly nations with its unofficial national mascot in what was known as “panda diplomacy”.
More recently, the country has loaned pandas to zoos on commercial terms.