July 11, 2012 / 7:05 AM / 7 years ago

Rare baby panda dies at Tokyo Zoo

Female giant panda Shin Shin's new baby is helped to drink milk by a zoological park staff member inside an incubator at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo July 9, 2012, in this handout photograph released by the Tokyo Zoological Park Society. REUTERS/Tokyo Zoological Park Society/Handout

TOKYO (Reuters) - A panda born at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo died on Wednesday of pneumonia, less than a week after its much-awaited birth was greeted with widespread excitement.

The cub was found motionless and without a heartbeat on his mother’s belly and moved to an incubator, but efforts to revive the baby panda failed, zoo officials said.

“It appears that when the baby was being breast-fed, it may have inhaled some milk, which caused pneumonia,” zoo director Toshimitsu Doi told a hastily-called news conference before choking up and wiping his face with a handkerchief.

The panda’s mother, Shin Shin, arrived from China in February 2011 with her partner, Ri Ri. The two went on view to the public soon after a devastating earthquake and tsunami the following month, providing Japan with some welcome good news.

Hopes for a baby began after the two pandas were recorded on camera mating earlier this year, and the 7-year-old Shin Shin gave birth on July 5. It was the first panda birth at Ueno Zoo in 24 years.

The baby’s growth was followed by the media on a daily basis, with television footage showing the tiny, white-haired cub wriggling in an incubator or being cradled to its mother’s chest. Visitors flocked to the zoo.

“We’re really saddened by this. That’s all we can say,” said Yutaka Fukuda, the zoo’s deputy director.

Reporting by Teppei Kasai, writing by Elaine Lies, editing by Jeremy Laurence

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