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Twin pandas born in Tokyo zoo make public debut

Public viewing limited to three days due to COVID resurgence

Male cub Xiao Xiao, above, and his sister, Lei Lei were born in June and now weigh around 13 to 14 kg each. (Photo courtesy by Tokyo Zoological Park Society)   © Kyodo

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The twin giant pandas born at Tokyo's Ueno Zoological Gardens last year made their public debut Wednesday, but will be on view for only three days and to a limited number of visitors amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

The male cub Xiao Xiao and his sister Lei Lei, who were born in June, now weigh around 13 to 14 kg each. They were shown to visitors together with mother Shin Shin at the Tokyo metropolitan government-run zoo.

Members of the public who had won a chance to see the pandas in a lottery began entering the panda facility at 10 a.m. Under the zoo's policy to prevent the spread of infections, each visitor only has around one minute to see the cubs.

"They were fluffy and cute. It was a miracle that I could see them biting leaves and climbing a tree," said 55-year-old Naoko Kawazoe, a Tokyo resident who became the first visitor to meet the pandas after lining up at the zoo from 5 a.m.

The metropolitan government on Tuesday closed the rest of the zoo as well as its other facilities such as gardens and museums for the time being due to the virus resurgence. But it decided to show the pandas to the 1,080 visitors selected through the lottery each day through Friday.

Ayano Tanaka, a 28-year-old Tokyo woman, said she was glad that the public was still able to see the pandas. "I was worried that the viewing would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic."

The lottery to see the pandas was held in December last year following their birth on June 23, with the odds of winning standing at 1 in 348.

The cubs were born to Shin Shin and her mate Ri Ri, who are also parents to 4-year-old female panda Xiang Xiang. The pair, on loan from China and both aged 16, also had a cub in 2012, but it died after six days due to pneumonia.

The arrival of Xiao Xiao and Lei Lei marked the first time Japan's oldest zoo, which opened in 1882, had witnessed the birth of twin pandas.

It received its first pandas in 1972 from China in commemoration of the normalization of bilateral ties.

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