China is experiencing a giant panda baby boom, given that eight new cubs were born this year at the world's largest giant panda reserve, the Chengdu Panda Base.
"Pambassador finalist Melissa Katz from the U.S. formally announced the new additions today in Chengdu and all the cubs are in good health and were photographed together for the first time," Alejandro Grau, a spokesperson for the reserve, told Discovery News.
Previously we told you about the "pambassador" program. Congratulations to Katz on becoming a finalist. And clearly it is time to pass around the blue and pink cigars, although black and white colored ones might be more appropriate.
Seven of the eight baby pandas were born in Chengdu. The eighth, born of a Chengdu Panda Base mother, was born at the Wakayama Adventure Zoo in Japan. The names of the eight babies are: Oreo, Xiao Qiao, Si Yi, Yuan Run, Miao Miao, You Bin, and twins Cheng Shuang and Cheng Dui.
The oldest is Oreo, who was born on the opening day of the London Olympics. Oreo weighed less than a half of a pound at birth, but now is a furry and chubby 13 pounds. (Adults can weigh up to 353 pounds.)
The eight new baby cubs bring the total number of giant pandas in captivity at the Chengdu Panda Base to 113, making it the biggest group of artificially bred pandas in the world.
Although giant pandas once roamed over a large portion of Asia, animal experts currently estimate the overall population at only 1,600. The giant panda is therefore a seriously endangered species, so each birth gives us reason to celebrate.
Grau shared that infancy is a crucial stage in panda development, when the babies must stay close to their mothers for nourishment and support. After 1.5-2 years of development with their mothers, the young cubs will enter a gradual training program with the long-term goal of reintroduction into their natural habitat.
Regarding the eight cubs: "I'm very excited to announce this big news, and with my fellow pambassador finalist friends be the first people to photograph all these babies together," Katz, a field hockey coach from Tinton Falls, N.J., was quoted as saying in a press release.
She's in Chengdu for the next week with the other pambassador finalists, learning about panda conservation. You can see her in the pic below.