Just a few weeks ago, she was a pink, fragile, mousey creature that could fit in the palm of a hand. Now a month old, Thailand’s first baby panda is thriving – and developing that signature black-and-white suit – at ChiangMai Zoo.
The cub, who has yet to open her eyes and will be named in a special Bangkok ceremony in August, has been under intense care by mama bear Lin Hui–so much so, that when zookeepers need to give the baby panda a check-up, they’ll place a stuffed animal decoy with Lin Hui to calm her nerves, according to a zoo blog.
With the birth, Thailand became only the third nation (after Japan and the U.S.) to successfully breed a panda outside China, an achievement that has the Southeast Asian country brimming with excitement. The cub’s parents, giant pandas Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, were loaned to Thailand from China in 2004 as part of a 10-year agreement – but it wasn’t always so certain that they’d have a family. Multiple efforts to get the two to mate – including staging a mock wedding and making Chuang Chuang go on a diet to become more enticing – were unsuccessful. Finally, in February, zookeepers artificially inseminated Lin Hui and the healthy cub was born on May 27.
Already, the baby panda is a celebrity. Over the July 4 weekend, ChiangMai hosted “Welcome Baby Panda” parades. The zoo is hoping that the new addition will be the impetus for a new wave of tourism in its region. Thai newspaper The Nation reports that the city, which is 435 miles north of Bangkok, has seen hotels run at only about 20 percent occupancy due in part to political turbulence, global economic crises and the swine flu virus. “[The baby panda] is our marketing tool to bring people back to ChiangMai,” Kanog Suvannavisutr, president of the Thai Hotels Association Northern Chapter, tells The Nation. Even the Prime Minister has offered to negotiate with Chinese officials to retain the cub beyond the two years stated in the loan contract.
“It is an ultimate happiness to see the baby panda,” zoo director Thananpat Pongamorn gushed to the AP. “Every staff at the zoo is proud, and I think every Thai will be proud too.”