Baby boom at Taipei Zoo lightens pandemic blues

A mother panda keeping her 36-day-old cub safe at the Taipei Zoo. 

AFP/Taipei Zoo

TAIPEI - Taiwan's largest zoo has celebrated a flurry of births in recent months -- including pandas and pangolins -- in a welcome boost during a visitor slump due to the coronavirus.

Formosan serows, Eurasian otters, jackass penguins, koalas, marmosets and black-capped squirrel monkeys have all added to their ranks since the beginning of 2020.

"We are very lucky this year with successful breedings from many international cooperation projects with our partner zoos and aquariums in Europe and Southeast Asia," Taipei Zoo spokesman Eric Tsao told AFP. 

Tsao said visitor arrivals are down 20-30 percent because of the virus -- even though Taiwan has emerged largely unscathed from the pandemic thanks to a response that has won global recognition.

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The birth that has garnered the most excitement is Yuan Bao, the second female cub born to giant panda Yuan Yuan. 

Yuan Yuan and her partner Tuan Tuan have been star attractions at the zoo since their arrival from China in 2008 as a symbol of what were then warm relations between the two sides.

Three-month-old Yuan Bao -- "round baby" in Mandarin -- has grown into a robust cub currently weighing five kilogrammes, up from 186 grammes at birth.

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The zoo has posted regular pictures of Yuan Bao on its social media platform and the public will likely be able to catch a glimpse of her in person by the end of the year.

Earlier this month another of the zoo's most popular animals added to the growing nursery.

Mofen -- a Malayan tapir who featured in director Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film "Life of Pi" -- gave birth shortly after a Czech delegation visited Taiwan.

The timing was fortuitous as Mofen's mate came from Prague Zoo.