Panda surprises Thai zoo with newborn

Wed May 27, 2009 6:50am EDT
 
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CHIANG MAI, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - A female panda on loan from China has given birth to a 200-gram (7-ounce) baby panda in Thailand after being artificially inseminated with her partner's sperm for a second time, a zoo official said on Wednesday.

Zookeepers were surprised because the female, Lin Hui, had shown no signs of being pregnant after she was inseminated in February, said Sophon Dumnui, head of Thailand's zoological body.

"This is a great success because we did not expect the baby to be born this quickly," he told reporters.

Lin Hui was fiercely guarding the baby panda, making it impossible for zookeepers to get close to determine its sex. Chinese panda experts were due to arrive in the northern city of Chiang Mai on Thursday to advise on the infant's care.

"We believe Lin Hui can take care of her baby after watching the way she handled it," Sophon said.

Lin Hui was artificially inseminated for a second time after the first attempt in 2007 failed, and her male partner, Chuang Chuang, failed to perform.

The couple, on loan from China since 2003, are a major draw at the Chiang Mai Zoo. They were "married" in November 2005 at a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony overseen by a Chinese diplomat to mark the zoo's 28th birthday.

According to the agreement with Beijing, Thailand must return the baby to China after raising it for the first two years. Thai officials said they would seek to negotiate a new agreement that would allow the infant panda to stay longer in Thailand.

(Reporting by Panumet Tanraksa; Writing by Kittipong Soonprasert; Editing by Darren Schuettler)