U.S.-born panda finds double happiness in China

A pair of newborn twin panda cubs are seen at the China Panda Protection and Research Centre in Wolong, southwest China's Sichuan Province July 16, 2007. Huamei, an eight-year-old U.S.-born giant panda gave birth to twin cubs on Monday morning in Sichuan, Xinhua News Agency reported. Picture taken July 16, 2007. REUTERS/China Daily

BEIJING (Reuters) - A U.S.-born giant panda has given birth to twin cubs in a research centre in southwest China, state media reported on Tuesday, its third pair of twins so far.

Eight-year-old Huamei, whose name means “China America,” gave birth to the first cub at Sichuan province’s Wolong Nature Reserve early on Monday, Xinhua news agency said.

The second, a male weighing 129.8 grams, came three hours later.

The first cub’s gender and weight have yet to be established, but both the cubs and mother were doing well, Xinhua quoted Li Desheng, vice-director of the reserve’s research centre, as saying.

The cubs are the third pair delivered by Huamei, who gave birth to twins in 2004 and 2005 since returning to the motherland in February 2004, the agency said.

Huamei is the first giant panda to have been born and survived in the western hemisphere since 1990, Xinhua said.

An estimated 1,600 wild pandas live in nature reserves n China’s Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. China keeps about 210 in captivity.

Breeding pandas in captivity is extremely hard. Females only ovulate once a year, with a slim 24- to 48-hour window for breeding when artificial reproduction methods are usually adopted.

Pandas eat bamboo shoots and spend a lot of time sleeping. They usually wean their young at around 18 months, and healthy pandas live into their late 20s or early 30s.