Panda births make China cute again

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The public relations brief for China is brutally simple. Just as the nation's image begins to suffer as a result of, say, intransigence over Syria, the solution is simply to reach into the store of cute baby panda pics.

The People's Republic has excelled itself this week with a photo that breaks all official cute meters, as China put on display 14 panda cubs that have been artificially bred in the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base over the summer.

The baby pandas were born between July and September this year and are currently being raised in two separate delivery rooms at the base. The oldest cub Meng Meng, is five times the size of the latest birth, Ya Yi.

The pictures are sure to send panda-lovers scuttling to their flight-booking websites to check on ticket prices to Sichuan, with panda tourism beginning to make a contribution to the economy of the south-western province.

The breeding programme is a rather more effective source of income though. China rents out the pandas to oveaseas zoos for around £600,000 a year. With only about 2,000 pandas remaining in the wild, they are a valuable resource which China monopolises.

The Chengdu facility has made great advances in artificial insemination and breeding of pandas, an important consideration given how reluctant pandas have been to breed in captivity. In Scotland, Edinburgh's pandas have been a money-spinning attraction for the zoo and keepers still nurse hopes that Tian Tian will give birth to the first British-born cub. She has been showing promising signs of pregnancy, but there remains the possibility that she might just be moody and sensitive.

Detecting panda pregnancies is notoriously difficult as the foetus is tiny and develops very late. Even when born, the cubs are miniscule, which raises the cuteness factor but makes it difficult for breeding programmes.

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