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Tokyo's Ueno Zoo debuts twin panda cubs to large crowds

Robert Besser
16 Jan 2022, 20:03 GMT+10

TOKYO, Japan: Twin panda cubs have made their first public appearance before devoted fans at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo.

However, the pandas, male cub Xiao Xiao and sister Lei Lei, will only be shown for three days due to a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.

The cubs, born at the zoo in June, took their first steps, as the Japanese held up their smartphones to record them playing together.

In a video released by the zoo, the twin cubs were seen on a tree playing with bamboo, while visitors can be heard saying "kawaii (cute)!"

"My heart thumped with excitement when I first saw them," said Kirie Tanaka, who came from Osaka for the day, as reported by the Associated Press.

The twins, which were palm-sized when they were born, now weigh as much as a human toddler and have developed black-and-white fur.

Ueni Zoo has been closed due to the spread of Omicron across Japan, with 1,080 visitors who won slots in a competitive lottery granted access each day.

Groups of six people at a time are allowed in the panda quarters for one minute. The public viewing period is limited to two hours in the morning.

Lamenting the scaled-down debut, zoo employee Naoya Ohashi said he hopes many more people can see the panda cubs after the pandemic has become less severe.

Pandas live primarily in the bamboo-covered mountains of China's Sichuan Province.

In what is known as "panda diplomacy," China, with some 1,800 pandas living in the wild and about 500 others in captivity in zoos and reserves, has loaned its unofficial national mascot to other countries for decades.

All pandas, including those born abroad, must eventually be returned to China.

The panda twins' elder sister, Xiang Xiang, also born in the Ueno Zoo in 2017, will be sent back to China in June.

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