A 9-year-old giant panda named Ai Bao gave birth to healthy twin cubs at the Everland theme park near Seoul, South Korea on July 7, according to the park's operator.
An Everland park official told CBS News that the first female cub was born at 4:52 a.m. and her sister followed at 6:39 a.m. The twins weighed in at about five and six ounces respectively, and officials said that "both their mother and the twin pandas are in good health."
The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda also confirmed that Ai Bao and the twin cubs were in stable condition.
"This is heartwarming good news," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. "We hope these two giant panda cubs will grow up well and play a positive role in enhancing the people-to-people friendship between the two countries just like their sister Fu Bao."
Fu Bao was Ai Bao's first cub, born in July 2020, and was the first panda to be born in South Korea. She is "deeply loved" by the Korean people and is expected the newborn twins will receive a similarly warm welcome from the country.
“I am very happy that twin baby pandas were born for the first time in Korea,” said Kang Cheol-won, a zookeeper responsible for setting up the panda enclosure at the park. “I will continue to take good care of them so that they can become a panda family that will deliver hope and joy to the public.”
Ai Bao and her mate, Le Bao, were brought from China to South Korea in 2016 on a 15-year lease. The pandas are considered a national treasure in China, and almost all pandas are considered the property of China, even when they are born abroad as part of a loan program China has with selected zoos around the world.
The "panda diplomacy" program is meant to foster goodwill between China and other countries. The director of Everland Zoo, Jung Dong-hee, said the birth of the pandas was “another important achievement from the cooperation between Korea and China on panda research.”
Conservation efforts have saved the panda species from extinction, increasing its population from fewer than 1,000 to currently more than 1,800 in the wild and captivity. The life expectancy of a giant panda in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity, they can live up to almost 40.
Panda births are also a special occasion due to the challenges surrounding panda mating. Pandas only have one fertile period throughout the year which lasts just one to three days each time, and since they are mostly solitary creatures in their natural habitat they rarely mate during their short fertile period.
The birth of Fu Bao, whose name means “treasure of good fortune,” in 2020 and the birth of her currently unnamed baby sisters this last week was a celebratory occasion for China and South Korea. Everland said it plans to let citizens select the cubs' names in a poll on social media and will finalize them upon China’s approval.
Everland has released cute photos and videos of the panda twins on social media, to the joy of panda fans around the world.