Baby panda born in Belgium zoo is 'true miracle'

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Media captionProud mother Hao Hao shows off her newborn cub at a zoo in Belgium

A giant panda cub has been born at a zoo in Belgium, an event so rare it is being described a "true miracle".

The healthy male cub was born at a wildlife park outside Brussels to six-year-old Hao Hao and her mate Xing Hui, both on loan from China.

The cub, which is hairless, blind and weighs just 171g (6oz), is yet to be named.

There are only 1,864 giant pandas worldwide, and about 300 live in zoos to protect the species.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Weighing only 171g (6 oz), the cub can barely be spotted underneath Hao Hao

"It's a boy!" the director of the Pairi Daiza wildlife park, Eric Domb, told a news conference at the zoo in southern Belgium.

"Everything went exceptionally well," he added.

'Little pink sausage'

The pregnancy was confirmed only a couple of weeks ago.

But pandas struggle to reproduce in captivity, and the team was cautious, even at that point, if and when Hao Hao would give birth.

The cub, described as "a little pink sausage", gave a loud squeal as it was born, according to the park's zoological director Tim Bouts.

Mother and baby are doing well, but Mr Bouts said the newborn was still in a risky period for any young panda.

Hao Hao, whose name means "kindly", scooped up her baby and held it in her jaws to protect and clean it.

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Image caption Chinese experts co-operated with the zoo during the artificial insemination and birth
Image copyright AFP
Image caption It was a tiring day for Hao Hao

The zoo has hosted the panda parents since 2014 under an arrangement with the Chinese authorities.

Chinese experts also helped with the insemination of Hao Hao three months ago.

The zoo can keep the cub for four years before it is returned to China, if all goes well.

The birth is only the sixth in Europe in the last 20 years, the others having been in Austria (three) and Spain (two).

Two pandas were born in zoos in China this year.

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