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Giant panda Yuan Zai celebrates 5th birthday at Taipei Zoo

Yuan Zai admires his 5th birthday cakes.

Yuan Zai admires his 5th birthday cakes. (CNA photo)

Taipei Zoo threw a party Friday to celebrate the fifth birthday of Yuan Zai, the first giant panda to be born in Taiwan.

Yuan Zai was born at the zoo on July 6, 2013 and has been a big attraction ever since.

The zoo invited members of the public to the party, for which zookeepers made two special birthday cakes from the giant panda's favorite foods, including ice cubes, apples and steam corn buns.

Despite the excitement of those in attendance, Yuan Zai showed little interest in the cakes, which she sniffed a few times before deciding to stroll around her enclosure.

Later Yuan Zai returned to the cakes and grabbed an apple on top of one of them, taking several bites before throwing it to one side.

Zookeepers explained that she is experiencing pseudocyesis, or phantom pregnancy, a phenomenon that occurs when mature pandas begin menstruation.

Yuan Zai became sexually mature at the age of four. This year the signs of pseudocyesis were obvious, zoo spokesman Eric Tsao told CNA.

Asked if the giant panda would be mated with a panda from another country, Tsao said the matter will be discussed at an international conference on giant panda conservation in November.

Wang I-ming, head of Taipei Zoo's Giant Panda Hall, revealed that Yuan Zai has been placed on the mating list of an international committee on giant panda breeding techniques.

In addition, Taipei Zoo has good relations with China's Wolong conservation center for giant pandas, Wang added, expressing hope that the right arrangements will be made for Yuan Zai.

However, according to sources familiar with the matter, China maintains strict controls over the breeding of giant pandas, which are found only on mainland China.

Moreover, the relations between Taiwan and China have been tense since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office as president of Taiwan in 2016. As such, Taiwan may now have little chance of finding a mate for Yuan Zai from China or acquiring sperm from the Chinese side for artificial insemination, the sources said.

Yuan Zai was born by means of artificial insemination to Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, giant pandas given to Taiwan by China as part of "panda diplomacy" in December 2008.

Under a bilateral agreement reached by the two sides, the panda cub is Taiwan's to keep. (By Liang Pei-chi and Elizabeth Hsu)

Updated : 2021-12-05 12:36 GMT+08:00