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Atlanta zoo welcomes panda cub
By Karen Fanning

Lun Lun tends to her new panda cub at Zoo Atlanta.
Lun Lun tends to her new panda cub at Zoo Atlanta.
(Photo: Courtesy Zoo Atlanta)
Congratulations are in order for Zoo Atlanta, as it celebrates the birth of its first giant panda cub. The cub was born on Wednesday afternoon.

"We're ecstatic to have a cub here at Zoo Atlanta," said Dennis Kelly, Zoo Atlanta President and chief executive. "This is a proud moment for all of Atlanta, another landmark day in our great city's history."

After 35 hours of labor, proud mama Lun Lun (loon loon) delivered her cub—the sex is not yet known—at 4:51 p.m. The hairless newborn weighs just four ounces—about the size of a human hand, and is the fifth giant panda born in a U.S. zoo in the last six years.

A Whole New World

Just 48 hours after giving birth, Lun Lun seems to be adjusting to motherhood just fine. The 9-year-old's maternal instincts have kicked in—she is holding her cub and responding to its cries.

The father, Yang Yang (yahng yahng) remains separated from Lun Lun and the cub. As is the case with father pandas in the wild, Yang Yang will never meet his offspring.

Meanwhile, zoo officials are keeping tabs on their newest resident's every move.

"The first several weeks of a cub's life are crucial," said Dwight Larson, vice president of Animal Programs and Science. "These are small offspring and quite fragile. It's going to be tense for us."

Panda Goes Public

In keeping with Chinese tradition, the zoo will perform a naming ceremony when the cub is approximately 100 days old. The panda is expected to make its public debut sometime in late 2006 or early 2007.

The giant panda is an endangered species. Only 1,600 to 3,000 live in the wild today. Fewer than 200 are currently in captivity. Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived from China in November of 1999. Each year, Zoo Atlanta pays China $2 million, which is used to preserve the giant panda's habitat and study its behavior.