Baby twin pandas make debut at Tokyo zoo, draw devoted fans

Twin baby pandas have made their first public appearance in front of dedicated fans in Tokyo, but they will only be on display briefly for now – over three days – due to a spike in COVID-19 cases brought on by the highly variant. transmissible omicron

TOKYO – Little twin pandas made their first public appearance on Wednesday in front of dedicated fans in Tokyo, but they will only be on display briefly for now – over three days – due to a spike in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

The twins, little buck Xiao Xiao and his sister Lei Lei, who were born at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo in June, took their first steps as beaming fans held their smartphones to film the cuddly duo as they played. together.

In a video posted by the zoo on Wednesday, the twin cubs sit back to back on a tree playing with bamboo while visitors can be heard saying “kawaii (cute)!” background. Then the male lion cub walks on his sister to move up the tree.

“My heart was pounding with excitement when I first saw them,” said Kirie Tanaka, a big panda fan who came from the city of Osaka in western Japan for the day.

In turn, the cubs were pretending to eat bamboo and “it was just lovely,” said Tanaka, whose hat and bag were decorated with panda-patterned ornaments. “It’s so heartwarming to see them.”

The twins, who were pink, palm-sized creatures when they were born, now weigh as much as a toddler each and have developed black and white fur. They love to climb trees and play on the ground wood chips together, according to the zoo.

In preparation for their debut, the twins and their mother were placed in shared accommodation where they were exposed to the sounds of a radio to get used to the noise and voices of visitors.

The zoo has been closed since Tuesday because the highly transmissible variant of the omicron is spreading rapidly across Japan. The zoo is only open for the twin panda exhibit until Friday, with 1,080 visitors who have won seats in a competitive lottery that are granted daily access.

Zoo staff Naoya Ohashi lamented the smaller-scale debut and said they hope many more people will be able to see baby panda bears after coronavirus infections slow down.

Groups of six people at a time were allowed into the panda quarters, where they could stay for a minute. The public viewing period is limited to two hours in the morning.

Rare animals mainly live in the bamboo-covered mountains of China’s Sichuan region.

For decades, China has lent its unofficial national mascot in so-called “panda diplomacy”. All pandas, including those born abroad, must eventually be returned to China.

The twins’ older sister Xiang Xiang, born at Ueno Zoo in 2017, is expected to be returned to China in June.

There are about 1,800 pandas living in the wild in China and about 500 others in captivity in zoos and reserves, the majority inside the country.

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Associated Press reporter Chisato Tanaka contributed to this report.

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